Don't Tell the Band
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2001, Volume 8, #9
Written by John Metzger
For years, Widespread Panic has buried a hard rock edge beneath the rolling hills of its jam band grooves. From time to time, this would bubble to the surface, adding a burning fire to the ensemble's swirling creations. Unfortunately, on Don't Tell the Band — Panic's seventh studio effort — the group fully succumbs to this tendency, and as a result, the album's songs turn from a mere forceful attack into a relentless bombastic bludgeoning.
On Imitation Leather Shoes, a thunderous bass line crashes into the pounding surf of drums and keyboards as lead singer John Bell devilishly grunts out the lyrics. Thought Sausage rails against its funk-metal vibe and winds up falling somewhere between Deep Purple and Metallica. Action Man sounds like Judas Priest on a New Orleans bender. And a cover of Firehose's Sometimes comes off as a lost recording from Boston. Fans not prepared for this side of Widespread Panic certainly will be in shock. Those who dislike this inclination will fare far worse — disliking a sizeable portion of Don't Tell the Band simply because of its brutal aural assault.
Faring marginally better are some of the more "toned-down" tracks, but these too compare rather dismally with Widespread Panic's past endeavors. The band's percolating rhythm section tries to spring to life during Down, but it's held back by the song's standard alt-rock motif. The group's foray into international fare on Casa Del Grillo fails miserably, and the title track is a country retread of Ain't Life Grand's Airplane. Even the album's best track Little Lilly borrows heavily from Everyday's Hatfield, and though it offers a promising beginning to Don't Tell the Band, it also foreshadows the lack of imagination to come. The biggest misstep, however, is reserved for Big Wooly Mammoth. Here, Panic stoops to an all time low, copping Phish's Possum and writing its own idiotic lyrics — and this from a collective that was once one of the better songwriting teams catering to the jam band market.
Sad to say, but on Don't Tell the Band, Widespread Panic sounds like a group that is running short of ideas and is lacking inspiration. What was once a promising young ensemble ready to fill the void left by the Grateful Dead's demise and Allman Brothers Band's ongoing feuds, now seems lost and uncertain. Fans can only hope that this latest collection of songs is merely a mild diversion rather than a new direction — a passing fancy from which the band will soon recover.
Of Further Interest...
Don't Tell the Band is also 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 © 2001 The Music Box