The Broken West I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On

[Merge; 2007]

Styles: upbeat, cookie-cutter rock
Others: Guided By Voices, Superchunk, The Rosebuds

The Broken West possess just about every skill you could expect from a pop-rock band with a healthy Byrds jangle dotting their Is and lower-case Js. It’s impossible not to get drawn into their web like a helpless fly, ensnared by the hum-a-long-able choruses and harpoon hooks that spear the senses and pull you in. So why is it so hard for me to get behind this record? No matter how many times I tell myself to lighten up and let the sunshine crack through the slats in my blinds, I still fail to see the worth of this band beyond a mildly impressive ability to thwart my instincts, which tell me to pan them completely.

But I posit this: How a band this derivative could turn so many heads is beyond me. The lyrics are particularly generic, even for a pop band, and they render The Broken West’s mission obsolete. I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On packs a lot of punch in certain areas — terrific production, for one, gigantic riffs, for two — but listening to this album all the way through, to this reviewer, isn’t that different from hearing the endless stream of sanded-down crap you could hear on any commercial radio station in the ’90s (Gin Blossoms, etc.). To me it strikes an argument for the relevance of the mp3 and, yes, the single. Not that any of the tracks stand above the others; quite the opposite. It’s just that once you hear a song or two, you know exactly what The Broken West want to do, are going to do, and will do. It’s that simple. Is this really what the average post-millennium listener wants? Fuck, I hope not.

The album starts out with two above-average, non-threatening songs, “On the Bubble” and “So it Goes.” Then “Down in the Valley” ups the ante with the most infectious chorus I’ve heard in awhile. “Shiftee” bats cleanup and wallops one right out of the park, while “You Can Build An Island” is the most promising track, and its guitar melodies are bewitching as hell. Same with “Baby On My Arm.” But there just isn’t any variety here. The opening segments of pretty much every tune carry all the potential in the world, but as soon as the singing comes in, everything gets taken down a notch, and Ross Flournoy’s vocals are so non-distinctive and middle-of-the-road that I can’t help but be non-plussed. To be frank I’d like to punch his voice in the nuts, if it had any.

And where’s the variety, the contrast? Substituting a rollicking guitar riff with a galloping piano line just doesn’t cut it when there are dozens of bands creating work that’s so much more exciting and innovative. Electric Soft Parade pack more grit and imagination into one verse than The Broken West do in an entire song, and yet ESP haven’t been ‘blessed’ with the opportunity to release a full-length album in the United States. What the fuck is going on? There are literally 13 CDs in my review pile that I’d much rather listen to (including the latest Earlies CD, which I gave a lower grade; confused yet?), and that’s only counting releases I’ve received since December 2006. I guess that says it all really. Despite a nagging feeling that my personal tastes are becoming too jaded to defend, I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On certainly isn’t going to win me over from the dark side. As I iterated above in so many words, the ability to not offend isn’t near as valuable as the ability to stimulate.

Most Read