Driving A Million
By: Eric Greenwood
I wonder if David Bowie regrets the whole Ziggy Stardust/glam thing when he hears how it's been whittled down over the years? Probably not. It's no skin off his millions. Dime a dozen LA bands like Gwenmars beg the question, though. Do they just pick a commercially viable style and run with it, or is it all just the result of natural musical osmosis? I'd have to say the former based on this debut. This has to be contrived. The affected vocals and ambiguous sexual overtones coupled with traditional rock and roll harmonies are too cookie-cutter to be of random design.
Driving A Million is a classic case of style over substance. The production is pompous, wherein underdeveloped melodies receive the full treatment of orchestral strings and moody atmospherics. "She Hung The Moon" is the perfect example. Shoddy, second rate, Beatles-wannabe-psychedelic lyrics start things off at a deficit: "she saw the light of day/I said that you are free to plant your plastic flowers and the orchid in the garden where she walks and she talks." This isn't the 1960's. People aren't fooled into thinking stream of consciousness dribble passes for mystical insight anymore. Psychedelic drugs are for hippies and ravers. Most of the rest of us should be sober enough to call a pile of shit a pile of shit when we smell it.
The band doesn't stop the thievery at glam, of course. My Bloody Valentine gets suitably ripped off too (the band's bio proudly boasts of countless other bands that "influenced" it, but for the life of me I can't hear a trace of Echo And The Bunnymen or The Cure). "Radio Gun" steals a sonic trick or two from Kevin Shields' playbook for sure. The music in this song isn't horrible- just generic. The guitars actually have an impact, splaying with shrillness from countless effects and mega-slick production techniques. The vocals have absolutely no presence, though. And with titles like "Radio Gun" only the sycophantic dregs of the LA club scene will be fooled into thinking they like it.
I have to say this isn't completely unlistenable. Some of the songs actually have hummable melodies, I guess, but they're so instantly familiar that they fail to register with any kind of ingenuity. Case in point is "Hurry Up." It's an hackneyed macho guitar romp that sways with introspective verses and clean strumming. The chorus is perfectly suited for the wasteland of commercial alternative radio. Congratulations, Gwenmars, you have what it takes to numb the minds of millions with repackaged Vertical Horizon. I can see their outfits in my head for their debut on MTV 2's "Spankin' New" segment: silvery shirts mixed with carefully crafted retro-thrift store chic, dancing models, and, of course, smoke machines.
Vocalist Mike Thrasher (that's really his name- he'd change if he could, he swears) tries so hard to sound British when it suits the songs. "Electro" uses the Smashing Pumpkins' bombastic histrionics to cover up the most generic piece of fluff of a song. Apparently, repeating the title with various inflections qualifies as a "hook" these days. "Strawberry Ice" reveals the first sign of a pulse on the album, but Thrasher's pretentiousness squelches what would otherwise be the skeleton of a fairly rocking song. Thrasher's too busy trying to get laid to bother pretending that he gives a shit about his music. This album is that thought times eleven.