A hollow follow-up

Happy Hallow (All Music Guide)The Promise Ring’s Wood/Water. Jurassic 5’s Feedback. Sunny Day Real Estate’s How it Feels to be Something On. Weezer’s Green Album.

Radiohead’s Kid A. Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy. The Faint’s Wet From Birth. Built to Spill’s Ancient Melodies of the Future.

All albums from some of my favorite bands. All highly anticipated. Two groups of albums that entered my life with high expectations.

The two groups are different, however.

The first group is filled with albums I found disappointing. I waited and waited, and was let down. Horribly. In the case of every artist but Jurassic 5, it signified the end of an era. I never purchased another album. I gave up. The albums were that mediocre.

The second group is filled with albums I found disappointing until I got used to them. They signified a slight change in style, something a little different from the stuff I grew to love. I like these albums, now that I’ve listened to them and learned to appreciate them.

But I’m scared.

I’m scared because one of my favorite bands, Cursive, has dropped an album – Happy Hollow – that could land on either list.

The only question is, which one?

Happy Hollow, much like Cursive’s previous two full-length albums (Domestica and The Ugly Organ), is a loosely crafted concept album. This time, we’re taken deep into the heart of suburbia and placed firmly in the eyes of a major topic: religion. It’s a great idea – one that Cursive should have been able to pull off expertly. And they did, musically, lyrically…

…but not vocally. Yikes. At first, I really hated this vocal track. Now, I have begrudgingly accepted it’s place in the Cursive folio and find comfort in the typical Cursive “switch from hard to fast, from angular to poppy” structure. But there are times when Tim Kasher is nearly undistinguishable from The Offspring’s Dexter Holland. I can never get past that.

What happened? Is this the end of Cursive as I know it?

All Music Guide gives it 4.5 stars out of 5. A look at metacritic shows a generally favorable status – with an average score of 78 and only a few low scores (The Guardian gave it a 40, which is where I would have initially put the album. Alternative Press, in all their glory, was the only one to give it a 100. Of course, they’re morons).

So critically, it’s well received. And I’m willing to agree with them. I’ve gotten used to the vocals, and the more I listen, the more it slowly fits in with the second group of albums I mentioned.

Really, it comes down to my love of Cursive. It’s only natural that I eventually revere this album as much as the rest of them. I will get used to the voice, to the Whoa-OHs and the sometimes out of place Chunkachunka guitars – riffs more at home in a Slipknot video. I can’t help it – I’m tied to Cursive like I’m tied to Modest Mouse and The Beatles and Jets to Brazil. They can’t make a bad record, in my mind.

It’s Cursive, but it’s different. On the first few run-throughs, I had a hard time figuring out what is so different (Offspring-voice aside). It sounded like Cursive, but it didn’t feel like Cursive. It was too slick, too predictable. Too produced.

Then I read the All Music Guide review, and I figured it all out.

It’s Cursive at their finest, challenging and smart and absolutely riveting, a group that’s been able to stay true to itself and its past while still being able to mature, and finally, finally sound as if they’re having a little bit of fun doing it.

Yeah. You’re right. They sound like they’re having fun. They don’t sound tortured and filled with artistic snootiness. They sing like they want to, they play like they don’t care. It’s a complete contrast to the angst that made Domestica so good.

Cursive has a right to change. As a fan, I have a right to shun the change. I also have a responsibility to respect the change – to give the new album a chance and not judge as harshly as I’m wont to do.

No, I don’t necessarily need to change with them. But if I’m not willing to do it, what kind of fan could I possibly be?

This was lovingly handwritten on January 11th, 2007