Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jeff Martin - Exile And The Kingdom

Rating - 6/C

I was a huge fan of Jeff Martin's erstwhile band, The Tea Party. Their first three albums (4, if you count the independant label debut) were among the most unusual and exciting things to come out in the 90s - a private genre composed of equal parts classic rock swagger, 80s new wave/goth romanticism and darkness, and eastern musical influences and instruments. Their 3rd major label album, Transmission added trendy electronic/industrial elements to this mix, but did so in a manner that conveyed musical growth and experimentation, even if some of the songwriting on the album was only passable. Since then, they rapidly fell off their pedestal, releasing perfectly amiable but stale albums that employed modern rock radio-friendly arrangements and hooks in a bid at replicating their first crossover hit, 'Heaven's Coming Down', and trotted out eastern touches and progressive flourishes in what increasingly seemed like sheepish sops to long-term fans.

Now The Tea Party have folded, victims of personality conflicts, and mainman Jeff Martin has a solo album out that he claimed would tap into the original Tea Party vibe, the vibe that made albums like Splendor Solis and The Edges Of Twilight so alluring and exciting.

He shouldn't have raised the bar so high.

Exile And The Kingdom plays a lot like a latter-day Tea Party album, only more acoustic and freed from the constituency-appeasing touches of the band's last few albums. Everything's just more stripped-down, largely acoustic and supposedly more intimate.

'Daystar' and 'Stay Inside Of Me' are trademark Jeff Martin romantic anthems (the later having a really egregious bit where Martin goes 'oh woo-woo-woo' in an uncharecteristic and cheesy falsetto), while 'The Kingdom' is the patented tortured-sensitive-soul schtick, only more ebullient and positive in tone, which isn't necessarily a plus. The gospelish backing chorus vocals give the song an excessive sheen and smoothness.'Black Snake Blues' tries to recultivate his earlier blues interests, but, while it isn't a '3 cent New Orleans blues song' as my friend Prem would probably put it, it comes across as rather studied and contrived, trying too hard. 'Lament' has some of the heaviness missing elsewhere, and is a decent enough song, if not especially fresh or memorable. The other heavyish song here, 'World Is Calling', supposedly a jibe at GW Bush is harder-edged, but it seems a trifle over-obvious. It's got some nice riffs though, the heaviest on the whole album. 'Good Times Song' is actually a bit of a breath of fresh air - a lively, folksy tune that is fairly different in tone from Martin's previous work, but it's also kinda minor. As is this whole album, really.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Jeff Martin hasn't forever betrayed himself with this album - it sticks close to the Tea Party blueprint, and the songwriting and performances here are all of a uniform level of healthy competence. But that's it- not only is there no fresh ground being charted, the lyrical content is positively stale when it's not cloyingly positive and the songs all sound like poor cousins of better, earlier material. It isn't self-derivative in the literal sense of ripping off past compositions, but it's nothing new or exciting, just music that must have occured to Martin very comfortably and easily. If you like The Tea Party, as I do, this will either be a pleasant but forgettable addition to your collection, or one more nail in the coffin. I leave the decision to you, and promise not to call you a fool either way. Really.


100hands said...

Wow, so beautifully written. I am thoroughly enjoying this blog, Jayps. Hats off to your command over the language. You wear it like a butterfly on your sleeve. :)

JP said...

Thanks Prem. On re-reading I think this one is decently written...maybe I'm more fluent when writing about artists I feel I really know very thoroughly...when I'm writing about someone whose entire dicog I don't know, or who is big enough that scads of people will be able to second-guess me I get a bit more muddled and cluttered. Need to work on that.

100hands said...

You are a sweet prakash. Can I adopt you, only thing I am down to my last lakh. Or has "Y" decided to adopt you instead? :(