Every once in a while, a band succeeds on sound alone. The Pixies spring
to mind, as do countless electronic acts who create soundscapes so
original or compelling that it's easy to overlook the fact that there's
not much substance buried in the noise or floating on the ether. Sometimes,
the sound is enough; if nothing else, it gives better writers (in the
Pixies' case, Nirvana) the raw materials to create great music.
The Gravel Pit's Silver Gorilla almost succeeds on sound alone.
A fat, ferocious, guitar-driven attack augmented by strategically placed
Farfisa and Hammond B-3 organ, the band's sonic assault is the stuff
most rock bands dream of. The vocals don't disappoint, either -- assured,
throaty leads from Jed Parish and well-executed harmonies. The band's
tight, and the production is clear and crisp.
Problem is, the Gravel Pit's songs fall this short of giving the
sound the push that it needs to stick in the memory when the volume's
turned down. The disc has its moments, that's for sure. "Where the Flying
Things Go" features a catchy chorus about the desire to soar, leading
into an urgently uttered litany of vistas, from California to India by
way of Indiana, where the singer sees himself taking flight.
"Get Tangled," which features sax work by They Might Be Giants' John
Linnel, is punchy and catchy, and "Favorite"
(RealAudio excerpt) sounds like the organ-driven
Lyres with bigger amps. But the ballad "Stumbling Sideways" just stumbles,
and the bouncy "When Will Our Bucket Run Dry" falls flat despite an
original lyrical conceit comparing a dying relationship to a drying well.
Most of the melodies here sound like XTC gone arena rock; the hooks
require more subtlety than the Gravel Pit's sound allows. When the band
just lets loose and rocks, as on "Millions of Miles"
(RealAudio excerpt), you can see why their live shows have become legendary around their hometown of Boston.
Then there's "An American Trilogy," unfortunately not the band's
take on Elvis' over-the-top 1970s medley of "All My Trials," "Battle
Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie" -- now that would be something
to hear. Dashed hopes for a truly inspired moment of '90s kitsch aside,
the sequence of story songs about the new settlers in the West stands up
because it's the most successful synthesis of the sound and song.
Ironically, it also features the album's most consistently conventional
(RealAudio excerpt) is a hard-rocking take on a melody
that could have come from a century-old folk tune, and "The Rise of
Abimelech DuMont" is a terrific haves vs. have-nots tale with a shout-along
chorus of "who do you think this town belongs to?" and an ending that
suggests that the good guys win. The trilogy closes with "The Marchers
Wander In," a dirge complete with a melodic reference to the Christmas
carol "Oh Holy Night." It's the only place on the album where the band
seems interested in emotion as much as motion.
The Gravel Pit would be better off either laying off the bombast -- so
their quirky melodies could shine through -- or going for pop hooks that
grab your ear while the drums and guitar kick your ass. It's a rare
album that makes me yearn for both brainy popsters like XTC and
post-grunge rockers like Foo Fighters or even Eve 6. For now, though,
the band's sound is too far estranged from its songs.