Legitimacy. What does it mean to be legitimate? How does one obtain it? If one has to ask, can one really possess it?
Possessing legitimacy is crucial in nearly every profession or trade. A legitimate plumber, say, gets more business than a plumber who lacks his competitor’s reputation for excellence.
But legitimacy goes far beyond the trades. Statesmen and even nations strive for legitimacy. Legitimacy yields better results at the negotiating table, more prestige for one’s people, more influence abroad. Indeed, the constant quest of realistic foreign policy is a quest for legitimacy.
So it is with the far less lofty world of music. If there is one thing Cover of Afternoon seeks in its latest release, Among the Tides, it is legitimacy. The question is–do they get it?
The press release for Among the Tides says that Cover of Afternoon is “a band that refuses to quit.” This band is, we are led to believe, struggling through the tough times. Certainly, many bands suffer from an excess of competition and the diffusion of the listening public’s attention thanks to the profusion of channels through which that public consume music. But Cover of Afternoon–again, as they want us to believe–is different.
Their press release goes on to list a slew of bands CoA has played with, billed as “some of rock music’s biggest acts.” Legitimacy. Ever heard of The Airborne Toxic Event? Morning Parade? Ionia? The Kopecky Family Band? If you have, kudos; if not, that just makes Cover of Afternoon cooler, because what’s more legitimate than being unknown?
Naturally, every band plays up their legitimacy through namedropping. Even the least legitimate band–indeed, the most committed to pursuing aggressively a lack of legitimacy–in the Columbia music scene today, The Lovecrafts, partakes in this time-honored practice. But with Cover of Afternoon, the desire, the sheer need for legitimacy, oozes from Among the Tides’ press release.
So: is Cover of Afternoon different? Do they obtain legitimacy? This reviewer answers no to both questions. In the world of pop music, striving for legitimacy is a surefire way to lose it–but at least CoA doesn’t try to gain legitimacy through being intentionally weird.
That response, however, does not mean Among the Tides is not a good album; indeed, quite the contrary. Fans of modern rock, especially the variety prevalent about a decade ago, in the halcyon days of the early 2000s, will appreciate and enjoy CoA’s latest offering. While the album lacks a Creed-esque power anthem–one that features plenty of opportunities for the listener to hold his arms outstretched in a rock ‘n’ roll perversion of the Crucifix atop a rugged desert mountaintop–it will bring a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia for anyone who was in high school or college during the early George W. Bush era.
The bulk of the album is enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, but a few tracks shine and really stand out from the rest of the pack. The intro to the opening track, “Recoil,” finds the guitar making fifth and octave leaps, creating a sort of stripped down rock ‘n’ roll fanfare. “Ashes to Ashes” hits a perfect note of alternative rock nostalgia.
“Paper Planes” demonstrates the superior musicianship and production on the album. The chorused, harmonized vocals are flawless, creating a musical high-point for Among the Tides. Almost any track with piano–especially “Not Afraid” and “Harlot”–is guaranteed to be good. “Not Afraid” sounds like it belongs in a Sprite commercial; one can vividly picture bearded lead singer Alex Roberts deriving inspiration from a sugary lemon-lime beverage and then banging out the tune’s motivational intro.
Other songs are well-played and listenable, but tend to run together and even get a little boring. For fans of the genre, these are good songs, but new listeners will find a few tracks to skip (and several to play again and again).
Beyond the music, Among the Tides is a deeply personal album–a cliché that I’m sure Cover of Afternoon yearns to see written in a review. The album’s lead single, “Harlot,” is the “tragic true story of Alex’s ex-wife having an affair with his ex-best friend.” Indeed, the band stresses that the album “speak[s] of a long segment of the band members[‘] [sic] lives.”
While this is apparently the case, it doesn’t come through. “Harlot” is an excellent track with some fantastic wordplay–some of the best lyrics on the album–but other tracks don’t convey the same emotional intensity and personal nature, even though they want to desperately.
Among the Tides is excellently produced and every instrument sounds great–a testament to Cover of Afternoon’s commitment to their craft. In this regard, the band does achieve a level of musical legitimacy. Unlike so many other acts, they are hard-working and truly do persevere, as the central theme of their album urges.
There is much to praise in Among the Tides–the superior musicianship and songwriting, the nuanced lyrics, the commitment to a theme, the personal nature of the album–but it does not reach the heights of artistic legitimacy for which its creators obviously hoped. Nevertheless, fans of the band–and there are many–will savor this latest release and will, no doubt, find much to uncover and enjoy within its tracks when it is released October 18.
– Overall Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
– Pros: Strong musicianship, some interesting lyrics, great sense of fuzzy nostalgia on some tracks, thematic consistency
– Cons: Tracks tend to sound similar or blend together, pretty pretentious (but not in a funny Jim Steinman kind of way), a bit boring