September 25, 2003

Vertical Horizon: Keep Horizons Horizontal

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Vertical Horizon, whose single “Everything You Want” became ubiquitous on radio frequencies across the country in 1999, is back with their second major label LP Go.

The new album, released this week via RCA, is a formulaic and disappointing affair — succeeding only in highlighting everything that’s wrong with much of today’s popular music.

Principals Matt Scannell and Keith Kane, who originally formed the band as an acoustic duo while undergrads at Georgetown in 1991, attempt to duplicate the success of the album’s predecessor with anthemic hooks and radio friendly production. But their trite approach to song writing and delivery dooms their efforts from the beginning.

Go finds the band deviating even farther from the acoustic rock sound that first garnered them a rabid following in the mid-’90s. The sterility of their latest offering is truly astounding. Songs like the opener, “When You Cry,” feature forgettable guitar figures and a chorus permeated by sugar coated vocal harmonies that seem awkward and terribly out of place on something masquerading as a rock record.

Lyrically, the band has fallen to a new low. Choruses like, “I see you/ do you see me too?/ close your eyes and meet me in the sunshine,” betray a complete lack of sophistication and musical maturity. Sappy sentimentalism and schmaltz carry the day as the unfortunate listener is forced to cringe and ponder the possibility that Mr. Scannell has been honing his lyrical chops at Hanson’s “MMMBop” School of Songwriting.

That’s not to say Go doesn’t offer a few bright spots. “I’m Still Here,” the album’s first single is an enjoyable, if ultimately insignificant, guitar-driven pop song, with a catchy melody and squeaky-clean sound courtesy of producer John Shanks (Melissa Etheridge, Lillix, Pink).

“Echo” is another standout. The track serves up a surprisingly enjoyable mix of solid vocal melodies, guitar riffs with some muscle, and a decent chorus to boot. One can glimpse, albeit ephemerally, the substantial potential for Vertical Horizon to make relevant rock records without betraying either their original fan base or their current corporate interests.

While Mr. Scannell and Mr. Kane display decidedly uninspiring instrumental ability on guitar, drummer Ed Toth and bassist Sean Hurley form a solid rhythm section and both display an impressive degree of musicianship and musical interplay. Unfortunately, their efforts are squandered by their band-mates; who seem unwilling to explore any musical territory other than bland, power-chord populated, modern rock terrain.

Perhaps most importantly, the album lacks the energy of previous Vertical Horizon releases and the record winds up feeling flat and forced.

So, on “Won’t Go Away” when Mr. Scannell plaintively declares: “No matter what you say/ I won’t go away” — I can only hope he’ll reconsider.

Archived article by Mathew Gewolb