The Webb Brothers
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11
Written by T.J. Simon
One of the greatest pleasures for a music fan is the unearthing of a new artist with real promise. This occurrence can be the musical equivalent of a prospector finding gold or a lottery gambler collecting on a scratch-and-win card. It is at this point that the fan becomes a pusher — bothering friends, family, and strangers, trying to induce them to sample this great new discovery. Listeners who have purchased The Webb Brothers' recent album Maroon no doubt have experienced this feeling ever since its release earlier this year. The disc is a jewel among pebbles, a silver dollar among dimes, an oasis in the desert of pop music mediocrity.
The brothers in question are Christiaan and Justin Webb, twentysomething sons of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb (Wichita Lineman, The Highwayman). Prior to the release of Maroon, The Webb Brothers achieved a modest degree of success in Great Britain in tandem with the U.K. release of their self-produced Beyond The Biosphere. Before becoming semi-famous in England, however, they were based in Chicago where they often gigged under the moniker Mercybeat. Neverthless, the overseas success of Biosphere landed them a major label deal that gave birth to Maroon, a sonic landscape of picture-perfect power pop, reminiscent of the works of Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and Ben Folds Five.
Maroon is a cinematic concept album, and while it is sonically a million miles from fitting the blues genre, it carries the style's cries of the pain and heartbreak that are associated with being young, broke, and out of synch with mainstream America. Romantic failures abound, springing to life in songs like I Can't Believe You're Gone in which a man is totally blindsided by the loss of his lady. Here, the flawless harmonies of the Webb Brothers flow over a driving drumbeat and space-filled organ and guitar effects. Likewise, All the Cocaine in the World is a haunting 90-second mini-song in the harmonic tradition of The Beach Boys that explores a possible remedy for vanished love. The spooky keyboard work of Christiaan Webb is prominently featured on Low Grade Fever and the title track — songs that could have been outtakes from The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin.
Indeed, the grim urban landscape of Maroon often has been compared, quite aptly, to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Radiohead's recent albums in terms of production, sound, and viewpoint. In songs like Powder Pale and In a Fashion, The Webb Brothers look back on their slacker days through gray-tinted, self-pitying glasses. As such, the brilliance of this release shines through, lying in the precarious balance between the bleak, hopeless lyrics and the lush, beautiful harmonies that rise and fall over traditional pop guitar chords. It actually takes an astute listener to realize that these are not, in fact, shiny happy songs, and the keyboards, guitars and general orchestration interact throughout the album to send a message quite different from the vocals.
As grim as these stories can be, however, the future looks pretty bright for The Webb Brothers, and well-deserved radio exposure, fawning critics, and an upcoming tour with The Charlatans ought to improve their outlook considerably. Hopefully, the duo will not collapse under the weight of all this adoration. After all, a music career is a marathon, not a sprint, and it remains to be seen if this duo is poised for durability or a one-time fling.
Maroon is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box