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Made up of ex-members of Jawbreaker, Texas Is the Reason, and Handsome, Jets to Brazil is emo’s supergroup du jour. During its short existence, Jets to Brazil has generated the kind of critical buzz that lets you know that either (a) the band is something really special or (b) the critical bug zapper’s on the fritz again. So I was eager to set my ears on the Jets’ sophomore album, Four Cornered Night, to find out what all the fuss is about.
Well, I’ve listened to it about 50 times now, and I still don’t know. Turns out that what today’s kids call “emo,” we used to call “Bryan Adams.” The emo sound is harder, sure. But both the Jets and Adams share an amazing knack for turning out songs that remind you of nothing so much as other, better songs by other, better people. Although there isn’t one truly bad song on Four Cornered Night, I can’t think of one compelling reason why anyone would ever pay money to own it. So here, in no particular order, are 15 reasons why Jets to Brazil won’t be touching down on my Discman again any time soon.
1. Jets to Brazil’s lead singer and songwriter, Blake Schwarzenbach, used to be in Jawbreaker. The album was produced by J. Robbins, the former leader of Jawbox. In college, I broke my jaw and was forced to subsist for six full weeks on thin soup and beer. Four Cornered Night reminds me of that diet, minus the beer.
2. I spent almost a week believing that this was one of those CDs that sneaks up on youonly to finally concede that it doesn’t so much sneak up on you as drop down on you like a dullish cloud of pure blah.
3. Jets to Brazil attempts to spice up its straight-ahead rock sound with tasty ingredients cribbed from the New Wave cookbook. This is the musical equivalent of throwing a can of fruit cocktail into your Jell-O.
4. The CD’s highlight, “Little Light,” sounds like the bastard love child of Elvis Costello and Evan Dando. Then again: Elvis is getting pudgy, and Evan’s washed up.
5. Schwarzenbach seems like a perfectly unobjectionable young fellow. Sensitive, bright, a credit to his high school. He knows his poetry, too. So when I call his lyrics, which there are a whole, whole lot of, a “drizzle of drivel,” he’ll know I’m using alliteration.
6. “One Summer Last Fall” is what Squeeze might have sounded like if the band had traded its playfulness for a couple of big guitars and its sense of humor for some effects pedals.
7. “Empty Picture Frame” is a country song by people whose idea of a good country songwriter is Nick Lowe. “Mannered” doesn’t quite do this number justice. If Freddy Fender ever hears this, a certain emo supergroup’s gonna get its butt whupped.
8. “In the Summer’s When You Really Know” is an end-of-summer song, like Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” only without the cool line about seeing “a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” And this end-of-summer song goes on and on until I find myself wishing that school would hurry up and get started.
9. The CD’s opening track, “You’re Having the Time of My Life,” sounds like watered-down Everclear. And everybody knows that if you water down Everclear enough, you wind up with Boone’s Farm Apple Wine.
10. The CD’s second-best cut, “Orange Rhyming Dictionary,” kind of reminds me of Fugazi, which in turn reminds me that I must be a bad person, because I despise Fugazi.
11. Every time I find myself wanting to praise “Mid-Day Anonymous” as a thought-provoking meditation on America’s culture of violence and the epidemic of killer gunmen it has produced, I remember that its best bit is a direct cop from a Pavement song. (“Drink yourself brilliant” is a great line, though.)
12. “‘Your X-Rays Have Just Come Back From the Lab and We Think We Know What Your Problem Is’” isn’t half as good a title as the Butthole Surfers’ “I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas.” And the cool guitars at the end are too little, too late.
13. The third-best song on the CD is a poppy little ditty, “Air Traffic Control,” about an air passenger who, terrified that his plane is going down, sends a final message to his true love. But instead of playing it for laughs, Schwarzenbach goes for schmaltz.
14. “Milk and Apples” is that rarest of things, a song that’s too smart for radio but too dumb to know it.
15. It’s nice for once to hear someone say that he loves his mother, as Schwarzenbach does in the CD’s closer, “All Things Good and Nice.” But when he starts with the platitudes (“Half the answers are there in your mistakes”), I remember that Dan Fogelberg probably loves his mother, too. CP