"John Ondrasik, the mastermind behind Five for Fighting, clearly never met a piano ballad he didn't like. Following the successful formula he developed on the mega ballad Superman (It's Not Easy) and the follow-up hit 100 Years, Ondrasik delivers a new album full of sugary ballads and gentle falsettos of the kind that hit the charts on earlier albums. Like those other albums however, Two Lights has only a few standout tracks and not as much of the diverse sound one hopes for on a new record.
"Freedom Never" is a somewhat weak opener that is entirely too soft musically but sentimental enough lyrically to make it difficult to dislike. "World" is the kind of beautiful ballad sure to be a hit and one of the standout songs on the album. On "California Justice" the band tries but fails to capture the sound of Counting Crows; despite similarities with Adam Duritz's voice and style, the song just doesn't work. Solid first single "The Riddle" is commercially viable, full of hooks, and laced with sentimental lyrics sung in Ondrasik's warm falsetto. "Two Lights" is the most elegant track on the record, a story of a father and son surrounded by layered strings and piano. This track is the kind of great track you wish the album had more of.
The second half of the album shows the band being a bit more adventurous. "65 Mustang" is the most different and most admirable track. This sound is a departure from the rest of the album, and thus stands out nicely. "I Just Love You" sounds like every other piano based ballad, but "Policeman's Xmas Party" comes across like a bizarre genetic cross between Devo and Sheryl Crow. "Road to Heaven" is another solid ballad, this time with keyboards instead of piano. The closing track "Johnny America" is another Crows sounding track, but this time the layered harmonies on the chorus and a Billy Joel piano sound produce a solid and enjoyable closing song.
Produced by Ondrasik and his fellow bandmates, Two Lights is a technically competent album clocking in at a touch over 43 minutes. Production values are solid, and the instrumentation is layered elegantly. Fans of the band will find enough on the album to be pleased, and radio will find several singles that will sell, but the obvious comfort level Ondrasik has with ballads renders this a good album that doesn't distinguish itself. In the future I hope someone takes away his piano for a while, gives him an electric guitar, and tells him to rock out and venture out of his comfort zone. The talent is there, but one can't live on ballads alone. This album is better suited to individual track downloads rather than a full album purchase unless you are a big fan.
A.G. Corwin St. Louis, MO "
Great Storytelling That Grows on You
Greg Robertson | Historic Quincy, MA | 08/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"My primary recommendation for enjoying the album "Two Lights" is that you put it into your iTunes mix (or your CD player) and just let it play without focusing on it. Why? Because most of the songs here start a little slow in comparison to, say, "Superman" or "100 Years," so it's easy to think, "Man, he's lost it." When I just let the album play and got busy with work, though, after a while I found myself repeatedly pausing to listen and think, "Hey, that's good...who is it?"
The savior of this album, for me, is the lyrics. That is, most of these are great stories relating to family or the state of the U.S. and the world. "World," in fact, is all about deciding what kind of world you want it to be, because your choices make a difference. "Johnny America" and "Freedom Never Cries," on the other hand, are about the impact of America on the world -- good or bad. While "The Riddle" focuses on what a father teaches a son about living life and "I Just Love You" rings particularly true to anyone who loves a wife, husband, child, or parent well beyond the point of having particular reasons for doing so.
That said, "California Justice" and "Policeman's Xmas Party" don't do much for me, but they're OK. "65 Mustang" is light and fun to drive to -- no surprise there. And while I can't blame anyone for thinking, "Get to the point, will you?" on several of the songs, once they get going, they're well worth the listen.
My personal favorites? "The Riddle" (both versions), "World," "Two Lights," and "I Just Love You."
"Two Lights" isn't a really GREAT album, but if you enjoy Ondrasik's brilliant lyrics and light, crisp piano style, you should give this album the try it deserves."
Highlights and headlights
Amanda Richards | Georgetown, Guyana | 08/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The San Fernando Valley can relax again. After suffering the after shocks of the disastrous Ray Romano/Kevin James movie "Grilled", along comes California born John Ondrasik with the save, a collection of songs worthy of printing another batch of "Visit California" bumper stickers. (Ondrasik goes by the name "Five For Fighting", which is normally used in reference to a hockey penalty, but he figured it would be easier for people to remember)
A series of little essays about life in America, freedom, war heroes, vintage cars and what have you, this album was inspired by real life conversations, and is the most personal of his three albums to date. First single "The Riddle (You & I)" is already taking the charts by storm, and justifiably so. He shares a conversation with his son, and sings "Here's a riddle for you / Find the Answer / There's a reason for the world / You and I..."
Other notable tracks are "Freedom Never Cries", a non-political war commentary with the lyrics "I only talk to God / When somebody's about to die / I never cherished freedom / Freedom never cries"; and also "World"; the highway anthem "California Justice"; the title track, and the retro "Johnny America". For pure, unadulterated feel-good listening you MUST try "I Just Love You", and for a quirky change try the reggae-tinged "Policeman's Xmas Party"
The one major failing of this album is that it only has ten tracks, but they're darned good songs, so dust off your Americana collection, get a new flag for the porch, and relax with Five For Fighting in your CD player today.
Amanda Richards, August 1, 2006 "
A Formula That Works
Ken Lim | 08/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The new Five For Fighting offering is John Ondrasik's best overall release, an album that will probably provide more than just one hit unlike his previous records. The opener, "Freedom Never Cries," is one of the best tracks, showcasing Ondrasik's ability to seamlessly integrate nostalgia, life, and war into a song. "I never loved a soldier until there was a war." In fact, he spends much of this album pondering life as he has in the past, an act that may soon be getting old but provides for good songwriting nonetheless.
"World" is a good track that doesn't stand out amidst similar sounding tracks. By the time I get to "California Justice," I know that this album offers more listenability than his previous efforts. The fourth track is the first single, "The Riddle," a lyrically generic yet catchy tune examining life's riddle. The song is similar to "100 Years," but you can't blame Ondrasik for sticking to a formula that works.
The title track starts off like many Five For Fighting tracks and becomes hopelessly grand towards the middle with a full-on orchestra. "'65 Mustang" is a guitar-backed song about getting that car you always wanted, a subject probably tackled enough times in music history.
Hopefully made into a future single is the sweeping ballad and best song "I Just Love You," which is destined to get played on a TV show this coming year. John Ondrasik changes it up a little and gets quirky on "Policeman's Xmas Party." The quietest song on the album is "Road To Heaven," and the most upbeat is the catchy closer "Johnny America."
Fans of Five For Fighting and piano pop/rock should be pleased with this album. John Ondrasik sticks to his winning formula and there's nothing wrong with that."
Decent CD, but far from the best.
Shawn | USA | 08/08/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The overall cd is pretty good. Not the greatest. Out of 10 songs tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are the only catchy ones. The rest don't really fit the first 5 tracks.
Freedom Never Cries: 3/5 Song is overall decent. Wouldn't make a single but it does have a wonderful tune to it and deep lyrics. The song gets boring in the music with a very unoriginal scale, G to D to E (walking down steps). It's an overused pattern and needs to be layed to rest for awhile.
World: 4/5 I can see this song becoming a single. Again you hear the annoying G to D to E almost right away, but it recovers with a powerful chorus and bridge that give the song new life.
California Justice: 5/5 Catchy tune and the beginning bass line is absolutely beautiful. The song has got to be one of the best songs on this release.
The Riddle: 5/5 First single from the CD and a wonderful choice, very deep story of his dad, himself and his son. Couldn't imagine a better tune for it.
Two Lights: 5/5 Another catchy song, symbolic and well put together.
65 Mustang: 3/5 Ok song about his car. Also somewhat catchy and enjoyable but not the best.
I Just Love You: 3/5 A simple love song. "I just love you, I don't know why, I just do." Very to the point, kind of plain though. But the bridge is an upbringer.
Policeman's Christmas Party: 1/5 Sad attempt at a "rap" or maybe a "porno" beat. Worst song on the album. Sounds like he's drunk (the "party" touch maybe?) when he sang this song and the chorus maybe catchy but I can't bring myself to hear the rest of the song.
Road To Heaven: 2/5 Anyone remember that old overplayed hit "Something About the way..." by Elton John? That's the beginning of the chorus for you and thats the end for me. Or maybe the show "Fraiser" that was played years ago... maybe it's an escaped ballad from a future sequel...Still an OK song, the chorus really drives me up the wall.
Johnny America: 3/5 Too Americana and poppy for me (music wise).. it's ok but I don't really like the style of music here. As the verse starts I get into some. The chorus reminds me of an auto repair commercial... Michelan or something..
Overall: 3/5 Album is decent and is good for any Five For Fighting fan, but asa first time FFF album buyer, I'd rather stick with America Town. Sometimes a bands roots are just the most crowd sucking and some of us just get stuck there!"