Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Eyes Adrift - Eyes Adrift

The word supergroup, to me at least, has always had negative connotations. I always thought they were made up of musicians whose ego's have outgrown their current bands and have decided to go and make records with people more worthy of them. Plus the music is rarely as good as anything any of the musicians have done before. I once heard someone comparing it to food. Taking various aspects of your favourite foods and combining them isn't necessarily going to make something amazing. Music is not just about good musicianship, which is something that supergroups tend to overlook.
After turning my nose up at all of this, it may seem contrary of me to then extol the virtues of a band who are essentially a 90's alt rock supergroup. You would be right. But I'm going to do it anyway.
Eyes Adrift released this one an only album in 2002. The band was fronted by Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Sublime's drummer Bud Gaugh providing the rhythm section. Kirkwood and Novoselic famously shared a stage before at Nirvana's unplugged show in 1993 and the Meat Puppets were the support for the grunge legends final tour. How Bud Gaugh came into the equation is a mystery as from what I can figure out, the only connection linking all 3 members is that their previous bands all lost a member to heroin (with The Meat Puppets Cris Kirkwood later overcoming the addiction that had him in hiding for 10 years and returning to music).
Eyes Adrift immediately set out to make sure you know they are not a grunge revival band. How do they do this? Trumpets. The first track starts off with a bouncy bass line, with almost a Latin feel to it. Kirkwood's low, vocals rumbling over the bass, acoustic guitar and snare rim-shots. Though it’s not the best song on the album by a long shot, it's a good statement about Eyes Adrift. They're distinguishing themselves from the sound of their old bands and setting themselves up as something different...for a few minutes at least. Alaska, on the other hand, could be a latter day Meat Puppets track. Possibly lacking the weirdness of structure and lyrical content that were hallmarks of the Puppets, it nevertheless could blend straight in with the other tracks on their 2000 album, Golden Lies. Kirkwood delights in the simple but dramatic riff and the trembling guitar noise in place of a solo marks this song, the only single released from the album, as a very obvious Kirkwood composition.
Krist Novoselic was limited to singing two lines in the entirety of the Nirvana catalogue. Even then, he wasn't really trying and the whole thing was done as a piss take. Here though, he takes lead vocals on three whole songs. I would like to say that they stand out as the best on the album but I just can’t do it in all good consciousness. His voice is not as full sounding as Kirkwood’s and he doesn’t have much in the way of range, leaving the performance feeling somewhat lacking at times. Inquiring Minds, the bands ode to murdered child Jean Benet Ramsey, comes off as obvious, over earnest and rather uninspiring. They haven't done Ramsey a disservice by it but they haven’t done themselves any real favours either. The Rockabilly stomper that is Dottie Dawn And Julie Jewel is a far better song, with an uncompromising energy and drive. Gaugh’s train like drum beat keeps the whole thing pumping with Novoselic's simple but steady bass line backing him up. The real star however is Kirkwood's guitar, heavy in slap back echo and employing a slide on some parts of the song he launches in to a couple of brilliant solos in a track that lasts just over 3 minutes, pulling off some of my favourite lines of the whole album. The vocals are there to fill time between solos it seems and who could blame them?
Solid is by far and a way my favourite track. A dark, moody song with desolate lyrics and an intro that you can feel hitting you in the chest with each kick drum hit if you turn the volume up enough. In comparison to the pounding start, the verses, picked on acoustic guitar above a low level rumble are a more introspective affair before the rhythm section kicks back in to deliver a great sing along chorus. It's by no means an uplifting song but you'll have the chorus stuck in your head for ages, harmonies and all.
The album has Curt Kirkwood's fingerprints all over it. The songs towards the end of the record have that psychedelic quality that he is known for. The lyrics get stranger as the album goes on, not always to the greatest effect but I challenge you to listen to a line like “Neon faucet penguins grow on trees” and not get a laugh out of it. Without Kirkwood's slightly tongue in cheek approach to his music some of these songs may come off as dour and rather pretentious. The chilled psych rock of Slow Race has a dark, almost medieval quality to it but the lyrics lend it a mystical and enchanted feel that's rather endearing.
This is by no means a perfect record. Some of the songs don't come off as well as they should and there’s one or two that I have rarely revisited since I first heard this album about 8 years ago. But when they hit the right spot, they hit it hard. There are some great songs here. Songs that are well thought out, put together and played with style. However it is a style that is very much Kirkwood's own. Novoselic and Gaugh do a brilliant job as a rhythm section and Novoselic gets his chance at the limelight but the best moments here belong to the ex-Meat Puppets frontman because that’s what he is, a frontman. And this is the other issue with supergroups, there always has to be someone who is front and centre and that person usually seems to dominate the project.

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