First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 26, 2007, 09:00 AM CST
Guys like P.J. Olsson are a dime a dozen. Adorning typical singer-songwriter fare in an array of modernized textures, they make perfectly pleasant pop-oriented outings that go down easily but fail to register much of an impression. Nevertheless, they can’t be discounted completely because once in awhile they stumble onto something that works quite well. Olsson’s latest effort American Scream provides a glimpse at both sides of the spectrum, and although it’s hardly the sort of album that will put him on par with the likes of Bob Dylan or Beck, it does contain some genuinely affecting material.
American Scream begins with what arguably is its worst track. Although its profession of love fuels the socially conscious discourse that follows, its arrangement is so generic and light that it provides little reason to continue wading through the set. Those who persevere past its vocoder-laced mediocrity, however, will be rewarded, at least in part, by everything that follows. In particular, Mother Honey — on which Olsson masterfully connects Elvis Costello and Paul Simon with Neil Diamond and The Everly Brothers — as well as The Dream — a convincingly earnest song of devotion to his partner — provide proof that whenever he doesn’t force himself to fit a made-for-television framework, he can create music that is remarkably engaging.
Unfortunately, much of American Scream finds Olsson oscillating between moments that are sublime and moments that are downright awful. More often than not, he jettisons a perfectly good arrangement in favor of an absurdly bland chorus. On Rain Song, for example, he suitably draws from Led Zeppelin’s canon, but just as quickly, he loses the tune’s organic essence because he allows it to mutate into something that lacks distinction. Likewise, the hints of John Lennon and U2 that drift through A.D.D. People Stop Running are unmistakable and intriguing, but he fails to do anything significant with it. By contrast, Morning Girl suffers from a different sort of problem. Here, Olsson once again tries his hand at modifying Led Zeppelin’s sound by splicing it to the regal folk refrains of Yes. Briefly, this union works wonderfully, but he loses all of his momentum when he stretches the tune far beyond its breaking point.
There’s no denying that Olsson has grand aspirations. Over the course of his career, his music has progressed, and his lyrics have become more refined. In fact, he boldly ties the entirety of American Scream together with the unifying themes that hope should never be lost and that love is more important than the trials and tribulations of daily life. If Olsson ever manages to stop focusing upon selling his songs to television programs, he might find a way out of his dilemma. Until then, it will continue to undercut everything he does. Nevertheless, even with this caveat in mind, there’s still plenty to like about American Scream.
American Scream is available from Barnes & Noble.
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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