April 26, 2001

We Don't Need No Education

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Despite the recent dominance of angry rock on the airwaves, a mellow album manages to squeak into the musical peripheral. The new album Just Enough Education to Perform, the latest from Stereophonics, provides an adequate, although somewhat tedious escape.

The album opens with the catchy rock tune “Vegas Two Times,” which branches from hummed harmonies into a combination of guitars and the raspy vocals of lead singer Kelly Jones. This song certainly performs the unspoken duty of the opener: to cultivate high hopes for the remaining ten tracks.

These hopes, however, may not make it terribly far beyond the end of that first track. The next song, “Lying in the Sun,” shows an immediate sedation that lasts, with some notable exceptions, for the remainder of the album.

The aforementioned song, while somewhat sweet on first listen, proves a better model for the album as a whole than the more optimistic beginning. It opens with a bare, acoustic intro, which is soon joined by Jones singing mournful lyrics about (according to the insert) “a guy begging on the street in Portugal.”

The verse ends, and a more upbeat chorus seems inevitable. As the listener braces for a change of key and perhaps a burst of mild excitement, the same intro-level construct is repeated. The same plucked tune, the same intonation in the lyrics. At some point, a faint, essentially inaudible drum beat enters, but does not provide a sufficient spine for the lost second song.

This pattern is repeated throughout the bulk of the album, in songs such as “Nice to Be Out,” “Everyday I Think About Money,” and “Caravan Holiday.” While these songs have moments of charm, they are altogether too long and monotonous. A combination of predictable guitars, drum beats that seem too obvious, and words held out for too long creates a thickness in the air. At these “running through pudding” times, it is difficult not to anxiously tap one’s foot and wonder if the end is within earshot.

While it occasionally adds to the uncomfortable thickness of individual songs, Jones’ voice is, for the most part, downright adorable. In its straining raspiness, perhaps striving for rock stardom, there is an accidental sincerity that manages to seep through. Even on songs that are overall tedious, Jones provides a sweetness as his voice cracks and hits the high notes.

Harmonies are also generally well done across the board.

The middle of the album is not entirely a downer, as there are higher points. “Step on My Old Size Nines,” while following a similar construct to the less desirable earlier songs, is much easier to swallow. A well-mixed harmonica is added behind the guitar, and this quietly happy tune provides a decent break.

The final track, “Rooftop”, adds a surprising splash of personality to tie up all the loose ends. Finally, the drums resurface, and distortion is thankfully added to the guitars for that extra, closing kick. A somewhat less linear progression can also be noted through this song, with a rogue (but appreciated) “end section” entering in place of the continuous intro of previous tracks.

Also notable is that, as a whole, the album flows well between songs. Despite similar structures, tunes are varied sufficiently to prevent widespread repetition. The ever-popular bookend strategy employed — placing the two best songs at the beginning and end of the album — seems a good choice under the circumstances. After jumping off enthusiastically and encountering a middle somewhat below the initial expectations, ending well is a must.

Although Just Enough Education to Perform may be overall weak, and at times quite repetitive, it is not entirely devoid of positive aspects. Those who enjoy mellow, acoustic acts will likely find much more merit throughout, with added accents in the more upbeat tunes at the ends.

Archived article by Stacy Williams