|Under the Influence of Giants:
Under the Influence of Giants Label: Island
Apparently, Under the Influence of Giants – henceforth to be referred to UTIOG, although the word-counting side of me can’t help thinking, “Hmmm, I could get this baby up to 400 words in no time flat if I didn’t abbreviate it” – didn’t get the memo which clarifies that, when selecting a name for your band, brevity’s the way to go if you want get mentioned as often as possible. But, then, they apparently also didn’t get the memo explaining that it’s totally uncool to be inspired by artists like the Bee Gees, E.L.O., Hall and Oates, and Billy Ocean, yet the combination of those folks’ sounds (and several others) seems to be working for them, so maybe they know what they’re doing.
UTIOG’s interest in memorable melodies, no matter what the musical context (the first two albums ever purchased by lead singer Aaron Bruno were Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son), pays off handsomely on their self-titled debut. There’s a definite tendency to get down and get funky in the whitest possible sense of the term; they might not always pull it off as successfully as fellow denizens of the field…like, say, the Scissor Sisters…but when it works, it’s great.
Fortunately, one of UTIOG’s most successful tracks is the one that opens the album, “Ah-Ha,” which starts with a bass riff reminiscent of War’s “Low Rider” before Bruno pops in with a falsetto reminiscent of Barry Gibb in “Stayin’ Alive.” The chorus is mostly nonexistent – it’s mostly driven by the screaming of the title – but it hardly matters; it’s the combination of the bass and the falsetto that gets the listener going. Elsewhere on the disc, the keyboard dance-pop of “In the Clouds” finds the band heading toward Killers territory, with backing vocals during the chorus that sound eerily like Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, while “Mama’s Room” is a disco-rock stomper…and the song that’s helped build their popularity dramatically via MySpace. Those are but three examples of a disc that’s full of catchy hooks, danceable beats, and killer harmonies. (Given that drummer/keyboardist Jamin Wilcox is the son of Utopia/Hall and Oates drummer Willie Wilcox, you can imagine his ear’s been pretty well harmonically trained over the years.) There are at least half a dozen potential singles here, including the above tracks as well as “Got Nothing,” “Heaven Is Full,” and the Jamiroquai-sounding “Against All Odds”…which, rest assured, is not a Phil Collins cover. The production work by former Blind Melon members Brad Smith and Christopher Thorne, is nice and glistening, which only adds to the ear-candy nature of the material.
Under the Influence of Giants is fun and funky throughout, and although it’s not what you’d call the most groundbreaking album, it certainly makes for an enjoyable listen while you’re playing Spot the Influence. You know, it occurs to me that maybe they’re just ignoring these memos in favor of doing whatever floats their boat, and to hell with how successful it is.
Sure, it’s crazy…but, dammit, it just might work.