Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Treble Charger - "Maybe It's Me" CD Review!!

It's now time for our 118th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and this month, we are reluctantly breaking our year+ streak of new album reviews as the metal, hard rock, and punk release calendar slows down. As such, we're looking at local/Toronto indie punk quartet Treble Charger's gold-selling third album "Maybe It's Me" in our first archive CD review since 2017! Preference for archive reviews on the SMS goes to albums featuring artists who played locally in the current month, and fittingly, guitarist Bill Priddle played at The Water Tower Pub two weeks ago. "Maybe It's Me" was released through Smokin' Worm Records on May 13th, 1997 (also on Vik Records that year and through RCA in the U.S.), and it was recorded at multiple studios in Boston and Toronto with producer Lou Giordano, with mixing by him & Tom Lord-Alge, and mastering by Ted Jensen. Like it's predecessor "Self-Title", Treble Charger received a Juno Award nomination for Best Alternative Album in 1998.

As on their first two albums, Treble Charger are represented here by singer/guitarists Greig Nori and Bill Priddle once again, alongside then-bassist Rosie Martin. Drums are largely provided here by session drummer Mike Levesque due the departure of Morris Palter early in the recording sessions, though Morris drums on 4 tracks. While he is featured in the album's liner notes & music videos, Trevor McGregor joined the band after recording ended. CD copies of "Maybe It's Me" can be found at record stores still, but for a sure thing, online copies of the original album are available on services like iTunes and Spotify, among others. Song names are linked below to YouTube copies, but consider buying the album to support Treble Charger's work! Featuring 13 songs running for about 50 minutes in length, let's begin our third Treble Charger album review with it's first song & single!

The CD opens with "Friend of Mine", which seems to be about not following someone's example and not reinforcing their behaviour by being friendly to them. A #9 hit on the Canadian Rock/Alternative charts, this has a Weezer-esque sound that at least shows slight progression towards their later punk material. The guitar work is strong and melodic, and the percussion is steady, but Greig's singing strikes me as a little monotone, without the anger and annoyance that the lyrics seem to point towards. The sudden fade-out isn't optimal either, but it's a good track for what it is! Second is "How She Died", which also hit the top 20 of the Canadian alternative charts. Seemingly a response to the suicide of a loved one, the song proper has a surprisingly upbeat melody, including a bit of vocal aggression on the choruses. Rosie's bass work is solid, and the energy overall is amped up, even showing a bit of a guitar solo late. If it was up to me, "How She Died" should have opened the album, but it's an early highlight on "Maybe It's Me"!

Next is the album's shortest song, "Stupid Things To Say", which is the first song with Bill on lead vocals. Containing seemingly apathetic lyrics about not being in the right frame of mind to hear another person talking, this song is more along the trajectory of their first two albums, though is it wrong to hear a Foo Fighters glimmer on this? Like on "Friend of Mine", the vocal annoyance and displeasure doesn't jive with the singing style, but the song is well performed, if leisurely. A pleasant listen, but punk fans may want to look elsewhere. That's followed by "Kareen", which may or may not reference the spiritual double of humans known as a "Qareen" from Islamic culture. Greig's back on vocals here for this number, which has a harder-edged alternative sound, and is somewhat darker in tone than we usually see from Treble Charger. The vocals contrast well with the instruments, and Mike's drumming is a good match, though the bridge feels like a few different songs stitched together. Very solid and mature track with a nice rhythm!

Fifth is a re-recording of "Red", which was their first single on their 1994 debut album "nc17", and like on that version, also received it's own newly recorded music video. Despite running for 30 seconds less and cutting half of the lyrics, this is actually the longest song on "Maybe It's Me". The remake benefits from stronger production and beefier instrumentation, losing it's more acoustically-inclined nature from three years prior. On a CD of transition for Treble Charger, this reflect their old indie rock sound very well, and Bill's earnest, soft singing is still a fine fit. I prefer this version for it's production & more rock-based nature, but you may well disagree! This version also made the top #20 on the Canadian rock charts.

Next is "Fade", which is another song alluding to personal differences, this time how one can finally avoid a former friend or lover (as far as I can gather.) Again, the lyrical themes don't mesh with the soft singing from Greig, but the upbeat power pop melody works well in the chorus, especially compared to the somewhat listless opening verses. The song improves with time, and hits a home run for involvement and enthusiasm (lyrical dissonance aside) in the last stanza, and that helps save the track overall for me! Song #7 is "Ever She Flows", another song that seemingly talks about issues between lovers and not understanding each other. The first of 4 songs with Morris on drums, the dream-like verses contrast well with the more punchy choruses, with Bill's singing a steady constant throughout, and the guitar work is really strong! Just for my own preferences, this isn't my favourite song on the CD, but fans of their first 2 albums will be right at home.

Afterwards, we have "Forever Knowing", which has themes about waiting for a loved one, and no song better matches the lyrics so far than this one, except maybe "Red". Another song with Weezer glimmers, this is has a nice dreamy power pop sound with Bill's nicely tuned singing and well suited guitar work, and Rosie's bass adds the right amount of thump to the instrumentation. Like on it's predecessor, this isn't the style of Treble Charger I prefer, but it's a fine fit for fans of their indie rock side! Ninth is "Mercury Smile" (with Greig on vocals & Morris on drums), which returns to allusions of strained relationships, but with a lot of extra visualization. The song seems like it'd be a softer indie rock song at first, but it amps up into full on alt-rock intensity after the opening verse, and Greig and Bill compliment each other well on guitar! I am not a fan of the owl hooting vocals late, but before then, this delivers enough rock to go around!

The tenth track is "Christ Is On The Lawn", also with Morris behind the kit, while producer Lou Giordano provides a guest guitar solo. A very symbolic song about loss and moving on, this is probably the quietest and most reserved song on "Maybe It's Me", with everyone performing at a very delicate and deliberate pace. It's an affecting song that would play very well in an acoustic setting, and Bill shows real emotion, but if you want to hear Treble Charger at a heavier and more rock-based level, you'll want to steer clear of it. I don't prefer this track, but it's very well done! Next is "Scatterbrain", which is lyrically about trying to comprehend changes in a loved one's behaviour. You may expect this song to have a ska-punk bent, based on guest performances by tenor saxophonist Coleen Allen, trombonist Stephen Donald, and trumpeter Sarah McElcheran, but their involvement just gives some backing zest to the song, and there's no discernible reggae influence aside from the presence of a horn section.

The song proper is lively, well paced, and energetic, and Greig's singing showcases a bit more range and energy than we've seen. He, Bill, Rosie, and Mike compliment each other well, and while this doesn't have the grit and attitude to come on later albums, this has a strong rock base and energy that fans should be able to get behind! Honestly, the guest horn players could have been a little louder too, they're easy to miss on low volume.

Second last on the album is "Takes Me Down", which is Mike's last song on drums. A short song that really has that punk influence in it's sound, the lyrics here reference frustration and anger, but trying to keep it in and let things slide... for now. Vocals (and a nice Spanish guitar break) actually come from Bill here, which is mildly surprising given the tone, and I'd honestly have switched his lead vocals with Greig's backing singing, as it feels like they switched roles in studio for a song of this style. The pacing and riffs work well, and Rosie fits in really well, but the vocal dissonance and the abrupt ending do give it a few marks. The CD closes with "Left Feeling Odd" (with Morris on drums), which seems to be about seeing a man lying on the ground, causing the title emotion. A return to indie rock territory, this is a reserved and plain song that doesn't feel as odd as Bill felt, but it's not especially memorable compared to it's predecessors. Not how I'd end the album, but it'll get the job done for early fans!

So, what are my final thoughts on Treble Charger's third album? Overall, I think this was their best album to date, and it served as an important bridge from their early indie rock era to their pop punk work that gave them their commercial peak. While the most "rocking" songs on "Maybe It's Me" don't overtly have a punk attitude, there's a clear emphasis on faster and heavier power pop material, and as noted earlier, I can see where Weezer and The Foo Fighters may have been influences. The songs sung by Bill tend to skew more to their old stuff, but Greig's material tends to be where their sound is expanding. Both have solid voices, and their guitar work compliments each other well, while Rosie's bass work was a reliable constant, and both Mike and Morris drummed well throughout! I will say that Mike seemed more suited to their more aggressive songs. Tracks like "How She Died", "Kareen", and "Scatterbrain" were among my favourites.

My biggest complaint is that vocals often weren't a great match for the lyrical themes (primarily about relationship strife and anger), often coming across as too soft and melodic. The occasional abrupt ending was present too, and the owl hooting on "Mercury Smile" did nothing for me, but as the bridge of Treble Charger eras, this has a little something for everyone, and whether you like "Even Grable" or "Hundred Million", this album will work for either side! Buy or stream "Maybe It's Me" at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming on the site next month? At present, I don't know, but here's what I can tell you. A new album would, of course, take precedence, and you can see what may be coming out soon in our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Thursday. If nothing new comes on sale to review, an archive review is very likely, perhaps of a Dustin Jones project to tie in with his Music 4 Kayge set.

In any event, stay tuned for much more on the site as we enter May 2019, including a new news post featuring a big concert announcement next! Thanks everyone!

No comments: