Music For The Morning After
By: Eric Greenwood
Pete Yorn sports more raw talent than he does instinct, as he mines the history of rock and roll on this equally annoying and impressive (and overproduced) debut album. Yorn has a solid and versatile baritone. He can whine and moan effectively through mimicked alt-country songs, and he can belt out the notes on his modern rock power ballads without flinching. His taste in music overshadows his lyrical ability, but he rises to the occasion on a few songs. He"s a pretty boy in the vein of Jeff Buckley but with one foot in Bruce Springsteen"s Nebraska and the other, intriguingly, in Joy Division"s Closer.
It"s hard to warm up to Yorn"s music and even harder to relate. I just can"t reconcile his pretty boy major label solo career with his mid-twenties, yuppie angst. All of his songs paint gray portraits of fumbled relationships, but do you feel empathy with a guy that"s got the world at his feet or, at the very least, the Sony Corporation footing his bills? With Jeff Buckley you could justifiably gawk at his raw talent, but Yorn"s just talented enough to seem annoyingly coy. I just get the feeling he"s using good influences to spread some commercially acceptable version of "underground rock", and it seems like a cheat.
"Life On A Chain" opens Yorn"s over-reaching, overlong debut with an inauthentic taste of Son Volt. He cleverly mixes Cure-ish guitar runs with a folksy, upbeat rhythm section. The lyrics are inoffensively common ("I was looking for the new thing/and you were the sunshine heading my front line"). This song would not be out of place as the soundtrack to an episode of Felicity. There"s just no edge. Everything is so smooth and perfect that it makes you want to crank up some Crass to get the yuppie scum rock out of your system. The frat boy with a dark streak will feel like a rebel listening to this instead of Widespread Panic.
On "Just Another" Yorn croaks out some embarrassing "you"re my baby and you were lying in the garden" lyrics. The harmonica is an offensive reminder that this is not the real thing- this is an imitation. Neil Young is cringing somewhere. Admittedly, "Black" caught my attention immediately. The bass line is a direct descendant of Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order). Yorn even gets Hook"s tone down perfectly. It is uncanny and catchy as hell. He croons over the melodic bass arpeggios, and it"s the first time this album feels alive. In the end the slick production (and Yorn"s generic lyrics) dull the song"s immediacy, but if Bernard Sumner were singing (different lyrics) this song would be classic New Order.
Yorn"s modern rock anthem is "For Nancy ("Cos It Already Is)"- a cringe-worthy stab at fusing electronic beats with mountainous guitars. It will grab your attention because it is better than 99% of what gets played on commercial alternative radio, but is that enough? Sure, it"s catchy. The synthesized noises seem exciting at first until you realize that the song is just another watered down attempt to appease both sides of the coin. Yorn"s got the right ingredients- he just doesn"t know how to present them properly. Lyrically, when he sticks his toe in "experimental waters" he comes up with lines like "and when you"re car crash comes don"t be misled/convince yourself that everything is alright/"cos it already is."
"Murray" moves Yorn"s attention back to alt-country. He sounds like fifteen different singers here. Is it Jay Farrar? Is it Freedy Johnston? Is it Michael Penn, etc.? Yorn even nicks a trick from Greg Kihn"s "The Break Up Song" with his pre-chorus of "uh-uhuh-uhuh-uh"s." "Sense" represents Yorn"s biggest flaw: his unoriginality. It"s a light rock ballad wherein Yorn tries to whine like J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., but, like everything on this album, it comes out glossy and generic. Keeping in mind that this is Yorn"s debut, I can accept that he"s still searching for his own voice. I think the suits at Sony put a little too much pressure on him to deliver something that would sell records, and he caved all too willingly.
Pushing an hour in length with fourteen songs, Music For The Morning After is far too ambitious, especially for a debut. Yorn"s not without talent, but that doesn"t justify his bad decisions. Too many ballads run together, particularly in the second half of the album ("Sleep Better", "EZ"). The bad news is that if Yorn is already letting blandness creep in on his first record, the chances of his improving are slim. He"s already sold his soul to Sony, so he"ll be a puppet for their demands until he either gets dropped or has a fluke hit. It"s a fifty-fifty shot, and I don"t think I care one way or the other.