Green Hills Of Earth
By: Eric Greenwood
How many different ways can you announce that you're a hippie? Well, you could have the word "mother" in your band name. Or you could mention both "green" and "earth" in your album title. Or, better yet, you could record for a label called "Future Farmer." Okay, so this band has "hippie" written all over it, but surprisingly, its new album is not unlistenable. I was fully prepared to eject the disc after quickly scanning through the songs, but I didn't. As much as it pains me to pay compliments to a band with a name like The Mother Hips, I must admit some of these songs are well-crafted, catchy pop songs in the classic sense of the term.
If you can overcome the inherent wackiness and goofiness of the band's persona, there are some impressive harmonies and arrangements embedded in its music. Green Hills Of Earth is The Mother Hips' fifth album and also its return to an independent label. The band flirted with the majors on Rick Rubin's American Recordings (haven't bands learned by now that signing to American is a one-way ticket to obscurity?). Pegged into the alt-country scene, presumably for its involvement in the past with the H.O.R.D.E. tour, The Mother Hips actually have very little in common with that scene's insulated, predictable sound.
The band wears the fact that it was influenced by pure pop acts like the Bee-Gees and the Kinks on its sleeve. There's very little mimicry of these acts, but the seeds of their influence certainly have a strong presence. The instrumentation is acoustic-based but very full and fleshed out. The band incorporates plenty of keyboards, piano, and sound effects into its lush sound. Some songs tend to outstay their welcome while others dig holes that can't be covered up. However, "Given For You" is short and sweet, opening with a 1970's Fender Rhodes riff and mockingly pitch-perfect harmonies. "Life In The City" is a Meat Puppets-style rocker, complete with a dirty guitar solo/outro.
The stretched-out vocal melody on "Take Us Out" is reminiscent of old Neil Young, except far more accomplished musically. The Mother Hips can't help but sound like seasoned musicians. Dumbing down its playing to sound more authentic would be pointless. That sense of perfection may turn off those that get off on having a patronizing view of musicians that are unremarkable players but happen to write remarkable songs. "Pull Us All Together" could easily be three decades old. Classic vocal melodies and the threat of a rocking explosion cement it into your memory. "Singing Seems Easy To Me" recalls 1960's British invasion-style harmonies. Very Dave Clark Five and very hard to resist.
Songs like "Protein Sky" remind you that this could all be a big joke, though. The silly lyrics ("put your lips to the straw and draw") give it away. Sung with fake desperation, the song's disingenuousness could easily be construed as condescension. It's times like this that the band's overly educated style could alienate some listeners. Mediocrity and indulgence plague the band intermittently throughout Green Hills Of Earth, particularly on "Channel Island Girl" and "Emotional Gold", but the good easily outweighs the bad when you shake it all out ("Rich Little Girl" is hard to top). If you can get past the hippie connotations, which is, admittedly, very hard to do, Green Hills Of Earth is an exceptional album that should garner The Mother Hips some much-deserved respect.