March 29, 2001

Bad Chemistry

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With All About Chemistry, California rock group Semisonic attempts an approach to alternative angst reminiscent of Everclear’s ironic style: dark, depressing lyrics offset by a horribly peppy tune. Unfortunately, Semisonic lacks both Everclear’s depth and frontman Art Alexakis’ singing ability. The end result comes off as rather juvenile at best, and dull and derivative at worst.

The main problem is that Semisonic tries to be angst-filled when they’re really not; the sorrow in many of the songs sounds forced, and one gets the feeling that the only reason they’re sad is because a record executive told them to sing that way. The title track of the album, “Chemistry,” sports shallow lyrics like “I remember when I found out about chemistry/ It was a long, long way from here/ I was old enough to want it but younger than I wanted to be/ Suddenly my mission was clear.” It’s certainly tragic, but not in the way Semisonic intended it to be. Frontman Dan Wilson’s nasal, whiny voice doesn’t add much to the experience but further pain.

Offsetting the moody lyrics on many of the songs is an upbeat rhythm so peppy that at points the CD threatened to burst out of the player, bouncing around uncontrollably at high speeds in a fit of saccharin 60’s-pop madness. “Chemistry” and “Who’s Stopping You?” sound like a cross between a rejected Beatles b-side track from the Sgt. Pepper era and the Beach Boys on a bad day. This isn’t anywhere near as annoying as “Get A Grip,” however, which could very easily be the background music to a polyester-filled Brady Bunch musical number.

Taking this into consideration, the graphic design of the CD cover is somewhat deceptive as it sports a sharp futuristic look similar to something you’d see wrapped around a techno or rave CD In truth, though, it’s appropriate, as Chemistry also sports several songs with a heavy electronica influence. Unfortunately, the mixer’s choice of samples never really gel with the songs they’re applied to. “She’s Got My Number” would be a wonderful angst/love number if it weren’t for these invasive samples. The constant bubble noise in the background of the track, and the occasional intrusion of a sample that sounds like Mario transforming into Super Mario after eating a Mushroom power-up come across as discordant and distract from the song.

Ironically, the strongest offerings on this CD are the somber tracks and the songs with a more traditional alternative sound. “Act Naturally” is a gentle piece that sports some beautiful piano accompaniment, and “Sunshine & Chocolate” sports almost grunge-sounding guitar riffs and a rhythm that has far more texture and bite than the other numbers.

But these songs are ultimately too little to save the album, whose most attractive aspect sadly turns out to be the slick graphic design of the liner notes.

Archived article by Matt Chock