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The pinnacle of 90's power pop
Alan Hutchins | Denver , CO | 11/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Grays were made up of four like-minded and talented musicians who, according to the label's press at the time, "hated being in bands". Jason Falkner had left Jellyfish after their debut disc because the founding songwriting team of Sturmer/Manning wouldn't give his compositions any consideration for their albums. Jon Brion had labored with a late lineup of Til' Tuesday featuring Aimee Mann and had played a large role on her debut solo disc "Whatever", in addition to helping out with Jellyfish in the studio for their "Spilt Milk" disc. Buddy Judge and drummer Dan McCarroll had played together for years and had also run into Jon at various points in the Boston music scene at the turn of the 90's. Just prior to this disc, Dan had played with Lloyd Cole and Buddy contributed to some songs on Aimee Mann's "Whatever" disc along with Brion. Somehow this quartet, which featured three singers/songwriters and two multi-instrumentalists, gelled into a band with a wealth of powerful material and a mastery of creating impeccable pop soundscapes. The stormy existence of the Grays lasted for only a year or so, but thankfully they left the glorious "Ro Sham Bo" as tangible evidence of their wide-ranging creative excellence.This disc is an amazing slice of exceptionally melodic "power pop", expertly produced by Jack Jospeh Puig. The fifty-nine minutes of musical brilliance contained within the disc sound very finely crafted; every song has multiple overdubs and instrumentation with lots of nearly-hidden flourishes, clever asides, and intricate sonic details to be soaked up with repeated listens. There's a fairly democratic spread of talents over the course of the disc, but Jason Falkner gets the slight songwriting edge with five of the thirteen songs coming from his pen. The other eight are evenly split between Jon Brion and Buddy Judge (although Dan McCarroll gets a co-writing credit for giving Buddy the title of "Is It Now Yet"). Jason kicks things off with the single "The Very Best Years", followed by Buddy's "Everybody's World" (the melody of which strongly resembles Badfinger's "Day After Day") and Jon's "Same Thing". This is a strong one-two-three punch of songs that serve to introduce each 'voice' of the band and stake out the group's musical territory, which is firmly influenced by some of the more intricate rock/pop material of the 60's and 70's--such progenitors as the Beatles, Zombies, Hollies, and the Raspberries come to mind. The Grays have plenty of individual creativity and a modern edge so that they never sound like they are merely reproducing other groups' past glories, however. The next five songs further refine the Grays' sound and set up another rotation of songs, but this time there are three melodic, mid-tempo Jason Falkner songs ("Friend of Mine", "Oh Well Maybe" and "Both Belong"). These three are split up by Buddy Judge's contribution of the mildly-psychedelic "Is It Now Yet" and Jon Brion's majestic out-of-love ballad "Nothing Between Us". One of the wittiest sets of lyrics comes in the next song, Buddy's "Nothing". The song looks at the lack of feeling that has evolved between the singer and an un-named 'she' as if that void is really a tangible item, stating, "What we've got...is Nothing...and Nothing can tear us apart/ and Nothing can break my heart". After a few more variations on this, like "Nothing lasts forever" and "Nothing is here and it won't go away", he seeks some sort of response to these feelings from the female, and not getting one, closes with "Nothing is just what I thought you would say". Very clever. A loungey piano insert both opens and closes this song, but a backwards, circus-like keyboard scale which links the next song signals a dead-serious decent into the dark heart of "Ro Sham Bo" with the next two songs. The immediately-linked Jon Brion song "Not Long For This World" is the closest to punk rock on the whole disc. There's an insistent, almost-cloying opening riff that's repeated many times within the song. The lyrics read like a suicide note: "Well I'm tired of facing all of this/ and I'm tired of waking, I'm tired of faking bliss/so I've resigned/ I don't need any more time..." The guitars are pushed gradually into maximum distortion as the intricate track builds to a massive crescendo of noise and near-screaming from Jon. The tortured feedback squall that signals the abrupt end to this sonic assault feels like the right way to end this one given the subject matter. Jason's appropriately titled "Spooky" slowly and quietly creeps in next. It starts gently but builds to a chilling noisy climax before closing quietly and cryptically on a similarly fatal note.The closing two songs provide a calming antidote to this serious/hard-edged section. Buddy's "All You Wanted" and Jon's "No One Can Hurt Me" are both sumptuous slow-tempo pop songs with Beatle-esque chord changes and instrumentation. The bass sounds over the whole disc are uncannily like those from Paul McCartney in the later Beatles records, and these two songs, especially the closing number, are no exception. The bass duties passed between Jason Falkner and Jon Brion depending on whose song was being done, and either of them amply demnstrate that they are capable of outperforming most rock bassists hands-down. "Ro Sham Bo" is one of the best discs of the 90's and is guaranteed to provide many hours of power pop bliss to those patient enough to delve into the super-sized portion of sound presented here. This is the kind of disc where new sonic details emerge even after multiple repeated listenings. There is more harmonic inventiveness and sheer melody in this one disc than most groups are able to come up with in their entire careers. This disc could scarcely be more highly recommended. It's too bad that such a brilliant group seems to have been destined to splinter almost from the start, and although all ex-members have gone on to produce or contribute to meaningful work, none of their separate efforts has been quite able to equal the sonic inventiveness and overall force of "Ro Sham Bo"."
Exceptional and Impeccable Melodic Rock
DarkCloak | West Wildwood, NJ | 12/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first discovered The Grays back in early 1994 with "The Very Best Years" and was hooked by the hook. The rest of this masterpiece is rife with melodic textures and every track is a standout. This is a masterful combination of some of the finest elements to be found in rock and the influences here are apparent, with a good deal stemming from 60's & 70's tunesmithing and overtones. My personal favorites are "The Very Best Years", "Both Belong", "All You Wanted", "Friend Of Mine", "Leavin'", "Nothing", and the sonically infectious "Oh Well Maybe". A highly creative and unique offering from a most prodigious group of musicians."
More influential than you think
DarkCloak | 09/22/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Listen to Phantom Planet's The Guest and try to tell me that they never heard this album. This album is in my rotation several times a year. Very Beatlesque in a good way. You can hear the Pink Floyd influences here and there, as well. Worth listening to if you like melodic rock. Standout tracks are Very Best Years and Both Belong. I have Both Belong in my head much of the time. I recommend this one, if you can find it. I have a promo copy that I picked up used at Moby Disc many moons ago. I am glad that I did."