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Breaks the mold of 1990s Music - Lots of Improvising
on February 27, 2006
Sometimes there is that one song you hear that will make you go out and buy an album. In the case of the song, "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals, this was a song that completely grabbed me. In many cases, the remainder of the album will disappoint. Such is not the case with the album, "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" - the album that contains the song, "You Get What You Give". What I discovered was an album full of introspective lyrics, great musical arrangements, and even some improvising. The result is a refreshing change from the trend the music industry would take in the late 1990s.
The New Radicals are essentially a "project" that was formed by musician and songwriter Gregg Alexander. By a "project", it means that Alexander is the sole core member of the band and none of the other members would be constant members. The two other musicians that could be considered quasi-constant members are guitarist Rusty Anderson and background vocalist Danielle Brisebois (yes the former child star who played Stephanie from the television show "All In the Family"). For all practical purposes this is a solo album and the bulk of the work is Alexander's work. Alexander handles all of the lead vocals a and is the sole songwriter of ten of twelve tracks There are two songs in which Alexander is a co-writer, "You Get What You Give" and "Someday We'll Know" - the latter song was co-written with Brisebois.
I found "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" to be a refreshing change of pace to the music landscape. In the late 1990s, Alternative Music began to take over the mainstream music scene. As far as Alternative Rock goes, this was originally a term that was a "catch all" to describe those genres (such as Indie, Grunge, etc) of music that didn't fit into the mainstream. . Eventually this music would become so common that it would become mainstream. In the late 1990s, the common element of many of these sounds was a strong guitar-laden presence. The problem with this sound is that much of it was "cookie-cutter" and would all sound alike. While using a guitar/bass nucleus, Alexander incorporates the use of piano and synthesizers with some funk and soul influences. In particular, I think it's the use of the Piano that really gives this album the edge. Some great examples of piano work are on the soulful, "I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away the Ending" and "In Need of a Miracle".
Piano isn't the only place where Alexander shines. Songs "Technicolor Lover" and "Jehovah Made This Whole Joint For You" demonstrate a terrific guitar laden style. Both tracks have a terrific mix of both an acoustic style of guitar as well as electric guitars. It is worth noting that Alexander recorded "Technicolor Lover" as a true "solo" effort as he performed all vocals and instruments on the track.
The song "You Get What You Give" got a lot of attention - namely in the area of celebrity bashing. Alexander's words at the end of this song launch into a social commentary on everything from health insurance to cloning, big business, as well as celebrity bashing. There are plenty of other great examples of songwriting. On "I Hope I Just Didn't Give Away the Ending", Alexander explores the area of drug abuse. On "Jehovah Made This Whole Joint for You", Alexander explores topics from the Kennedy Assassination to environmental concerns to politics. Alexander explores love in the songs "In Need or a Miracle", "Someday We'll Know", and "Technicolor Lover".
I think one thing that makes this album something special is Alexander's use of improvising. Alexander isn't afraid to improvise during the songs and this helps him tackle the wide range of topics he is able to. "You Get What You Give" shows one of the best examples of this when Alexander launches into a social commentary described above. There are many other songs that also show examples of improvising. On "I Hope I didn't Just Give Away the Ending", Alexander changes the serious tone of the song and lightens it up at the end with some humor. In the middle of "Jehovah Made This Whole Joint For You", listen to the presidential sound-clip and Brisebois' powerful segue in which she sings "The first step of a successful revolution is to destroy all competing revolutionaries." On the opening track, "Mother We Just Can't Get Enough", Alexander sings gibberish toward the end of the song - and the amazing thing is that it works. Perhaps the ultimate example of improvising is the title track, "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Lately" in which Alexander basically improvises the entire song. In fact even the lyrics of the song don't match up - let alone fit together.
In addition to the songs mentioned above, there are two other good tracks worth mentioning. The opening track "Gotta Stay High" and "Flowers".
The liner notes include all of the lyrics to each of the tracks with the exception of "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too". As mentioned, the lyrics that are included do not match up to what the title track song actually is. I'm not sure why Alexander chose to do this, but I guess it fits into the unpredictable trend of this album. One thing that is a bit annoying is that the lyrics are put in upside-down and backwards order format from the front cover. However, this also keeps with the album's unpredictable nature. The liner notes also include musician and production credits. One should also note that there is strong language used on many of the tracks of this collection. Overall, this is a very good album - and a nice change of pace from the sounds that have penetrated late 1990s, early 2000s music. It's too bad that the New Radicals did not stay together because this could have been the first of a lot to come. Highly recommended.