Halfway Down the Sky
story by Michael Pelusi
photo by K. Bernard
Todd Rundgren - something of a pop great in
his own right - has an odd pedigree as a producer. Everything from protopunk (the
first New York Dolls album) to schlock rock (Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell)
to pastoral art pop (XTC's Skylarking). Never mind that the late Johnny Thunders
would tell interviewers that Rundgren "fucked up the mix real bad" of the
Dolls album; or that Rundgren spent the bulk of the Skylarking sessions battling
for the upper hand with the band's frontman Andy Partridge ("two fuhlers,
one bunker," says Partridge). On the face of it, at least, the man has a formidable
Bit of a shame,
then, that Rundgren's production of Halfway
Down the Sky by the band Splendor
is one of the weak points. "Weak" isn't the right word, actually, "formulaic"
is. Almost ten years after alternative rock took center stage, people are still trying
to milk gold out of that combination of guitar grit and glossy production that made
albums like Pearl Jam's debut so big in their time. But, guess what? That
sound is a very tricky balance. If you're not careful, the grit and gloss cancel
each other out, and the music sounds like a compromise of both. You'd think that
Rundgren would have more than enough experience to pull this off, but you'd be wrong.
Let's not focus
the whole review on the producer, please? But Splendor seems a bit reined in by the
sound of the album, so it's hard not too.
not focus the whole review on the producer, please? But Splendor seems a bit reined
in by the sound of the album, so it's hard not too. Songs like "Cigarette"
and "London" contain a real sense of drama in the tug-and-pull of the writing
and band. It's the kind of drama that seems to call out for something a little unique.
But such songs are mired in a dull radio-ready mix that's just annoying.
few tracks manage to stand out, the aforementioned two and the opener "I Don't
Understand" which manages to create a rocking tension out of the confusion.
But the album ultimately sinks, due not only to the formulaic sound, but also the
rather simpering lyrics, another lingering disease of the modern rock era.