Top critical review
Damn catchy, if you don't let the grating cliches get to you
on June 13, 2003
Forewarning: my first paragraph rambles a little bit, so skip off straight to paragraph 2 if you wanna to what I actually think of the album... Second, the album might be in the alt-country category; but it's rather rock-n-rollish, so if you got here accidentally, don't let the word "country" scare you: I am not a country music fan myself, but this is "alt-country". And another FINAL warning: THIS REVIEW IS SOMEWHAT LONG!
1st Paragraph : Intro
2nd Paragraph : THE BAD: THE CLICHED LYRICS
3rd Paragraph : THE GOOD: THE CATCHY MUSIC
First of all, I'm seriously surprised that Kathleen would say something like "Who cares if these songs aren't radio friendly?" Another song the radio won't like? (which is a rather ironic name for Kathleen's second song on "Failer", even though it's not as catchy as some other songs on the record) Nah, more like, Kathleen "radio friendly as hell" Edwards. And I don't mean it in a bad way. I just mean that her songs are immensely catchy; and, well, I do have to wonder why, oh why the radio stations aren't playing her. No, I did give the album 3 stars, but I can sure appreciate the good-pleasant (as opposed to bad, but possibly radio-friendly music) when I hear it, especially when the radio stations don't care to put it on. To be fair, the Canadian is getting her share of hype with television appearances on Jay Leno and David Letterman and the North American press, but I haven't seen that reflected in the charts / the radio (except for the title track "Six O'Clock News", which is in rotation on Canadian music station MuchMoreMusic and the radio). That said, maybe if she did get more airplay with other songs, we would not be loving her so much...
OK, the album... Well, on the one hand, I'm not nuts about it. I think it's most certainly overhyped. Where to start? The lyrics. I don't know why she is being dubbed as terribly introspective, sharp or visually interesting. I am not a very experienced music listener, especially in the alt.country genre, but the lyrics on the album are the same old stuff: unfortunately, neither particularly sharp, nor terribly introspective. If "You try to spend half your life trying to turn the other half around" or "I don't wanna be your friend, just take off your clothes and get into my bed" (from "Six O'Clock News" and "12 Bellevue", respectively) seem sharp to you, then fine. This is the sharpest it gets, though, with
"I dance dirty for you cuz it turns you on
And I'm a little bleeder with white pants on" (from "Westby");
"I put a hole in your heart
Then I fed it to you"
(from "12 Bellevue");
"And I know your momma calls you good for nothing
She says her baby is a failer and she don't want you calling"
(from "Six O'Clock News")
on the opposite side of the spectrum. These examples above seem horribly, horribly cliched. The songs are all once again about dysfunctional relationships ("Six O'clock news", "Hockey Skates", "12 Bellevue", "Natonal Steel" all fit the bill, and possibly more...), gettin' high and the road ("Mercury", "Maria"), dirty affairs with older married men in seedy motels ("Westby"), messed up lives ("Six O'Clock News") and loneliness (again, "Hockey skates", "National Steel" and "Sweet Little Duck", I think?). Almost each song is yet again laced with drinking and the sort of a stale "rural town" atmosphere. As universal these themes are, they have been explored many, many times before. Plus, the lyrics are somewhat vague at times ("The Lone Wolf").
If you can forget all the cliches and the fairly annoying lyrics there is some damn, damn, damn catchy music here. The songs could probably be divided into 2 categories : the slower melancholy tunes ("Hockey skates", "The Lone Wolf", "Mercury", "National Steel" and "Sweet Little Duck") and the straight-ahead rockers ("Six O'Clock News", "12 Bellevue", "Westby" and "Maria"). Kathleen's off-key-slightly-drunk vocals (which some might not enjoy) and the arrangements blend to make goodness out of the-not-so-great lyrics. I have to agree with the reviewer(s(?)), who compared her to Sheryl Crow. Well, I haven't really listened to a lot of Sheryl's music, but to me some of the songs on "Failer" are somewhat reminiscent of the moody depression of "My Favourite Mistake" (even though I'm not sure I remember the meaning of the song). Anyhow, Kathleen's voice manages to be really affecting in her sad songs (especially "Hockey Skates", "Mercury" and "National Steel"); and even on the upbeat "Six O'Clock News", which is really not a happy song, even though it's a rocker, the cliched "And I can't feel my broken heart" sounds powerful in the delivery. The most countryish Kathleen's vocals get is in "Westby", which is not a bad thing at all - on the contrary, this makes the song fun. As I mentioned early on, the sound on this record is not country, but sort of countryish rock-n-roll or a mix of rock-n-roll and country. In any case, I liked the instrumentation a lot. One of the catchiest songs on the record is "Six O'Clock News", has been getting airplay in Canada (at least in Ottawa, for sure), but there is much more to be found here. "12 Bellevue" is an addictive, addictive "prozac anthem"; the instrumentation at the end of the song is just fantastic: with a mix of electric guitars and saxophone - conveying the depression so well - you will be guaranteed to be stamping along. "Maria" is just a killer signature road trip song, it sounds like it could be used on a "Thelma and Louise" type of soundtrack. Once again great arrangements make this song memorable; and this is just as pure rock-n-roll as Kathleen gets. Both songs are potential radio hits, but they are not getting any airplay, as far as I know.
Overall, this is an enjoyable CD (especially for a road trip), if rather unoriginal and very overhyped.