CD Review of Hey You by Chris Trapper

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Hey You
starstarstarno starno star Label: Starlit Records
Released: 2006

Group performers tend to make solo albums for one of two reasons, neither of which are guarantees of failure or success – first, to escape the narrow artistic confines of their band; second, to offload some of the material the band just doesn’t have room for. Chris Trapper, lead singer and chief songwriter of the Push Stars, is the second kind of solo artist. Hey You is his third solo album in four years; factor in the three studio releases the Push Stars have put out since 1999, and you’ve got an uncommonly prolific songwriter.

“Prolific” doesn’t always equal “great,” however. Even insofar as the Push Stars are essentially a showcase for Trapper’s songwriting and vocals, his previous solo albums were departures; last year’s Gone Again, in particular, was a terrific blend of acoustic pop and Dixieland jazz. Trapper’s experiments in sound have helped to mask the fact that he’s been mining essentially the same melodic and thematic territory for a while now – behind the new coats of paint, his songs tend to tell sad tales about broken-hearted losers, usually from sad, small towns.

This is no crime, in and of itself. There are plenty of those stories to be told, after all; these are time-honored rock & roll subjects. And what he does, he does very, very well – vocally and lyrically, Trapper communicates wounded, persistent optimism brilliantly.

Still, though. Listening to Hey You, you can’t help feeling, at times, as though Trapper has either run out of ideas or needs to work through some deep-seated emotional issues. He’s done a lot of this stuff before, and better: “Feelings without Weight” has shades of “One Summer Day,” “Perfumed Hair” is “Starlight” redux; “35th Birthday” is “Birthday Song” revisited; “Wish I Was Cool” carries strong echoes of at least four older songs; so on and so forth. Nothing misses the mark completely, and first-time listeners won’t notice, but anyone who’s familiar with Trapper’s catalog may wonder if they’re hearing double. Or triple.

Compounding the problem is Hey You’s sonic similarity to a Push Stars album. There’s a good reason for this – the band appears on six of the fifteen tracks – but it increases the feeling of familiarity. Perhaps Trapper planned this; with the Push Stars on hiatus, he’s likely hoping to make more of a name for himself as a solo artist, and reaching back is an easy way of doing that. Regardless, this set feels like a letdown after Gone Again.

Warmed-over Chris Trapper is better than none at all, though. There are some genuinely lovely, affecting moments here, and a lot of the album’s problems might have been cured with a more judicious, trimmed-down running order – regardless of the extra space afforded by the compact disc, fifteen songs are almost never really better than ten – or a little breathing room between releases. Consider this an intermission.

~Jeff Giles