Here & Now
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2007, Volume 14, #1
Written by John Metzger
Although its albums largely were hit-and-miss affairs, America still managed to become a regular fixture on AM pop radio during the early 1970s. In fact, between the release of its self-titled debut in 1972 — which suitably propelled the outfit to a Grammy Award for Best New Artist — and the 1975 issuance of its first career retrospective History: America’s Greatest Hits, the group amassed a dozen folk-pop gems that highlighted its extraordinary knack for crafting breezily infectious singles that blurred the line between Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and The Eagles. The advent of punk and disco, however, served to push the ensemble off the charts, and over the course of the next 30 years, America — which never was taken seriously by music critics — struggled to maintain its momentum. It resurfaced sporadically but scored only a modicum of success, most notably with the pleasant but utterly forgettable You Can Do Magic in 1982. In effect, the collective had become a pale imitation of itself.
America’s latest concoction Here & Now was produced by former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Fountains of Wayne mastermind Adam Schlesinger, and it features collaborations with Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller, Nada Surf, and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. As such, it is meant to be a major bid at reestablishing the band’s relevance. Despite the wise decision to forsake most of the synth-driven arrangements that undermined nearly all of America’s work during the early ’80s, the set still suffers the same fate as the rest of the material that the group has unleashed since 1975. While its songs are ingratiating, they also are rather innocuous, and even worse, the group’s amiability no longer can hide its lack of a distinctive personality. In other words, all of the criticisms that unfairly were tossed at the ensemble during its early days have come home to roost.
Tellingly, the finest track on Here & Now is a cover of James’ Golden, and rather than cloaking the tune within the reverb-heavy ambience for which James is known, America opted instead to give it a bittersweet, Harry Nilsson-esque lilt. This juxtaposition of styles is striking, and it effectively connects the band’s roots in the ’70s with the current crop of indie-rock songwriters. More important, it makes the album appear, at least for a moment, as if it might fulfill the band’s objectives. Unfortunately, the rest of the set — which runs the gamut from the Ventura Highway-conjuring Chasing the Rainbow to the Stephen Stills-in-the-desert groove of Ride On to the soft and gentle refrains of Look at Me Now and This Time — fails in its attempt not only to recapture the band’s glory days but also to refurbish its legacy.
The material featured on Here & Now’s bonus disc, all of which was recorded live at XM Studios on October 23, 2005, retraces History: America’s Greatest Hits, but in the end, it doesn’t really help matters. All of the songs are tightly scripted, and hence, they are well executed. It feels, however, as if America essentially is hedging its bets. None of the tracks surpass their original studio counterparts, and their inclusion here merely serves to highlight the deficiencies that plague the collection’s opening half. Although the sum total of the set is meant to introduce the band to a new audience, Here & Now falls short of America’s lofty intentions of staging a full-fledged comeback. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box