By Jason Shoff
Every summer needs its soundtrack. Whether it's songs to listen to while you're at a pool party, cooking hamburgers on the barbeque grill, or staying inside with the A/C on full blast as you try not to melt, music always plays a key role in the summer season. Well, at least it does for me, anyway. So when I was forwarded The Furious Seasons' My Love is Strong to review, I had hopes that it could be this year's summer album (especially after reading their official description of the album, which references The Byrds, Bob Dylan and the '60s).
It sure started off promising with the first track, "Southern Night." With its Beach Boys-inspired harmonies in the intro and Elvis Costello-style organ throughout, it's a fun pop rock ditty with a gospel-inflected chorus that sounds great as it plays. But then once I heard the second track, the acoustic ballad "Understood," I realized something: their lead singer sounds a whole lot like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. And maybe it's something that the band realizes, too, because almost every track on this album sounds like something either of those two legendary musicians could have written it. "Perfectly" is a shimmering ballad that sounds like an outtake from Springsteen's sessions for The Wrestler soundtrack, and the upbeat rocker "Fooled By the Bottle" sounds so much like the Heartbreakers that it'll make you swore you've heard it before, as does "Bad Man," a country waltz that would fit right at home on Wildflowers.
Sadly, the most season-appropriate song on the entire record, "Summer Rain," turns out to be its biggest disappointment. Maybe it's because, with the title, I was expecting a gorgeous piece of Brian Wilson-inspired songcraft, or maybe some power pop in the vein of Cheap Trick or Big Star. However, the awkwardly symphonic opening, complete with backwards guitar loops, caught me totally off guard (and not in a good way) before giving way to some Drifters-inspired piece of 50s balladry, castanets and all. While musically it's not all that offensive, David Steinhardt's vocals are cringe-worthy in spots, sometimes sounding like he's nowhere close to hitting the right note. Then there's "Full Disclosure," a third-rate attempt at Mighty Mighty Bosstones-inspired ska that sounds totally out of place when compared to the rest of the record.
That's not to say that all of these songs are bad. In fact, for the most part, they're serviceable, sounding like tunes from a bar band that you'd hear on the Sunset Strip and enjoy listening to while drinking a few beers. But what hinders most of the record is an average vocal performance and a set of lyrics that don't really dig deep on a personal level. Tracks like the Music from Big Pink-pastiche title track and epic country rock balladry of "Wind Blown" (which has some really nice guitar playing) are strong from a songwriting standpoint, but they need the emotional punch that a great vocal and lyric can provide to take them to the next level.
Having said that, My Love is Strong shows that this is a band with good intentions. But rather than taking elements of the past and making them their own, or blowing you away by how well they can duplicate various styles and genres, The Furious Seasons' strategy of taking the best elements of the greatest bands in the rock and roll Pantheon only makes you want to listen to the real thing.