Memento Mori, a Latin term meaning “remember we must die,” marks stickfigure’s fourth studio release, following up 2001’s Ape of the Kings. McDowell, who retired from baseball in 1999, serves as the “Black Jack” of all trades on this latest album, writing all the songs while also playing the bulk of the instruments with a little help from his friends, including Smithereens bassist Mike Mesaros and Vandals drummer Josh Freese. The result is a tight package of 11 introspective songs that range from energized rockers to mellow pop gems.
Memento Mori immediately chirps its tires with “Starting to Raise,” a crunching prologue that instantly sets the tone for the rest of the album while also serving notice: This ain’t no ballplayer hopelessly chasing after some improbable dream. McDowell and his bandmates know exactly what they’re doing in the studio, a point driven home when “Starting to Raise” gives way to the defiant “The Scars.”
This aggressive pace ebbs a bit with “Open Yours,” a haunting tune featuring a silky chorus that’ll float around in your head for days, and once “Ringo Couldn’t Drum” hits the speakers, you’ll realize just how effortlessly stickfigure can glide from guitar-drenched rock to sugary pop. For proof, give the bully “This Perfect Body” a spin before taking in the next track, “Mirrored Eyes,” which rivals the sweetness of “Open Yours.” Then there’s “As Cool as We,” which would fit perfectly onto any pop movie soundtrack.
Skeptics likely see McDowell’s name on a CD and shy away, but there’s no reason to ignore this release. Sure, it’s not the album of the year but there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into. And Pearl Jam fans will enjoy the brief appearance from Black Jack’s buddy Eddie Vedder on the disc’s hidden track. Jack McDowell’s second career may not be a commercial success yet, but that lack of attention certainly doesn’t reflect the quality of Memento Mori.
Other Stickfigure Reviews:
Ape of the Kings (2002)