CD Review of Devils & Angels by Melee

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Devils & Angels
starstarno starno starno star Label: Warner Bros.
Released: 2007
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Do you like music? I mean “like” music? Well then, Melee and their brand spanking new album Devils & Angels is the album for you! It’s perfect for that music liker in you that screams, “Hey! I want something completely faceless that sounds good on the radio, won’t offend my pets, and will help me maintain that fresh lifestyle I have begun to incorporate for myself that at its core is based entirely on all that crap I purchased through late-night infomercials on TV!” Sound like a good listen? Well, at its best this album is as predictable as its unimaginative title. At its worst…well, ditto that.

Basically, Melee have a lot of potential to be really big. On the other hand, it’s that kind of “really big” that sounds like “good enough” for one hit single and album, and then the world is going to pass them by a little more with each subsequent release until the band members go in solo directions. “Oh, you were that guy in Melee? Yeah, I kinda remember them. My cat really liked that one song of yours.” But God bless ‘em for trying to just put out some “normal” product in this day and age of big label merchandise being pimped out as mere tax write-offs for the head honchos in charge.

Devils & Angels is thoroughly bland in its professionalism. Lead vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Chris Cron plunks out slightly catchy, vaguely familiar melodies from behind his piano, perhaps like something Journey could have climbed the charts with way back when mixed with a sprinkle of Coldplay to keep it “modern.” This means of course that you’re going to get the big production sound with perhaps a bit of humility thrown in. The lead single and first track “Built to Last” is so intoxicatingly vanilla that you’ll swear you heard it before twenty years ago, if you’re old enough. And if you’re not, then it’ll all sound new, and well, that’s really the whole idea.

But Cron says this album is “about being in your 20s in modern America. It’s about our experiences right now – with life, love, friends – and asking questions about where we’re going and what’s going to happen.” So basically it’s emotional pop 101. No, not “emo,” but real emotion, man. The kind of emotion that successfully hanged Ben Folds from his piano wire when he decided that writing fun and terrific pop songs was not where it was at, but dulling the audience with high school level drama through song was. He’s never recovered since (damn that “Brick.”) But it suits Melee, because, well, they’re starting out with that plan instead of mutating into it.

So to cut to the chase, the second track “Rhythm of Rain” sounds like The Gin Blossoms all tarted up and equally hollow. “Freq. Baby” is a number Hall & Oates would have put over on the charts in their heyday, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on either Voices or Private Eyes. “Drive Away” is pure faceless pop that sounds like 500 other bands that you know a song by but can’t remember their name. And the big weepy number “Can’t Hold On” is over the top where it needs to be and subdued in all the other places, so you can follow along easily without getting muddled up in any actual paying attention to the music.

You know who’s done this sort of thing a thousand times better? Cincinnati band Homunculus. They have a great pianist, a likable lead singer, enough hooks to keep you grooving, and enough drama to not make you feel embarrassed for the band. But then, this is often what happens when you’re talking about a more indie-label based thing versus one that’s been gone through the system at the big leagues. Yeah, Melee probably have a couple hits in them with Devils & Angels, but don’t expect to actually remember the names of the songs next year.

~Jason Thompson