Label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Released: January 2008
Sometimes there is a very fine line between great and terrible. Great bands stay just on the good side and awful bands may only take a single step over. Queen’s bombast pushed right up to the line and they’re one of rock’s truly great bands. Meat Loaf (or really Jim Steinman) took one more step and he’s reviled and written off as mere kitsch. Likewise the Smiths had their toes right up to the edge of mopiness while too many of their lesser followers took that extra step into a maudlin mess.
Emo too has such a line where one side is honest and pure and just a few paces away is a sappy melodrama. Michigan’s not-so-concisely-but-very-emo-y named Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) sadly didn’t quite know where to stop. Their latest release (and first with a full band), Year of the Rabbit, is two tracks of emo as it was done in the days when it first separated itself from its hardcore roots…but just a step across that line.
Both songs take their raw (over-)emotions on a low-key indie rock ride. “Year of the Rabbit” has a nice mellow progression and bit of sad jangle. “IDK, My BFF Jill” is decidedly uppity next to the title track, but never gets much punch behind it. The reason for the not-so-punchy music is because the punch is supposedly in the heart-felt lyrics, but while Keith Latinen and company may feel what they’re singing, it still falls into the common trap. In the days before the genre lost it’s edge, I don’t know that a band like Rites of Spring would ever sing, “I tied my heart in a knot for you.” (I really think Ben Gibbard is about the only guy on the planet that has figured out how to get away with things like that, but he’d find an even cornier way to say it and make it charming and meaningful). What was originally a willingness to open up about emotions in a scene that was increasingly dominated by mindless machismo has become an open door to melodrama that I find increasingly difficult to connect with.
Does this kill the record? No, but it does limit its appeal. Empire! Empire! does manage to be vaguely off-kilter and that gives their songs texture and a few surprises, but for me at least, that isn’t quite enough to save it. When I can repress my desire to yell, “Get a hold of yourself! Stop whining!” I can hear the good things Empire! Empire! has done on this record. Sadly, I just can’t keep that feeling in check. Perhaps a little bit of that same emotion would serve this record well. For those who can suspend disbelief in the way that I do when I watch a disaster movie, these songs are well-written and somewhat clever. Unfortunately, I can’t do that and the overwrought emotionalism of Year of the Rabbit fails to suck me in.
If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.