For a new band to make a splash with its first album, it usually needs some sort of hook or gimmick. For example, if you are planning to throw your chips into the rap game, you better be driving next year’s biggest Ford, something bigger than Biggie’s Suburban, and you best have shinier ice than the next guy. If you want to be a rocker, get a drum machine and start polishing your rap skills, ’cause Fred Durst won’t sign you if you can’t flow. Today, it’s easier to break into the music scene if you play into the current trends. But for a band whose aim is to succeed in playing plain old rock and roll, there isn’t much room on the charts at the moment. Since the grunge era, straight-on alternative rock has dwindled and has been nearly squeezed out of existence by related sub-genres; namely, singer/songwriters and hard rockers. Lifehouse, on the other hand, serves up its debut, No Name Face, with a bit of the old school philosophy: play well and people will listen.
The band comes to the fore fearlessly with something just a bit poppier than Creed and just a bit edgier than Splender, and so runs the risk of entering the industry in no man’s land. But they come armed with more talent and chemistry than most bands twice their age. And Lifehouse will be around for a while.
Even though frontman Jason Wade will have the career-long challenge of distinguishing his voice from Eddie Vedder’s and Scott Stapp’s, Wade’s band will have no problem distinguishing its music from Pearl Jam’s and Creed’s. And since Wade isn’t the first singer to partake in the exercises of Vedder syllable- swallowing, we can’t hold it against him. The truth is, he’s damn good at it. His greatest talent, though, is establishing his vocal dynamic. On “Everything,” the album’s purest love song, Wade begins in a silky calm croon with “you take my breath away/ would you take me in,” and finishes by blasting “You are everything/ how could I stand here/ and not be moved by you.” The clever lyricism and excellent elocution continues on “Simon” and “Sick Cycle Carousel,” which should eventually vie for heavy airplay.
For the duration of the album, in fact, Wade tactfully uses his vocals. On No Name Face‘s first single, “Hanging by a Moment,” he keeps his volume unpredictably restrained throughout the first verse, even while his guitar screams. Then for the chorus he matches his amplifier and outdoes it by one. But not every song is merely a well-orchestrated duet between Wade’s voice and his guitar. Lifehouse drives through “Unknown” with its bass and drums holding together a funkier groove.
But, although they experiment with a more Spanish guitar sound on “Trying,” Lifehouse’s first album begins to suffer near its end from repetition. Luckily, it is the repetition of a highly accomplished, cultivated sound, a sound capable of catapulting them into the good graces of critics and the CD players of audiences. Still, their shows won’t become a smash until they begin to diversify their sound. Maybe next time they will fit the crafty songwriting and well-wrought lyrics into a slightly more diverse format. For now, though, Lifehouse succeeds heartily with what they’ve got.