October 24, 2009

Lovedrug: Pretending they’re still alive

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since Pretend You’re Alive launched Canton, Ohio’s Lovedrug to national prominence. More astonishing is that seven years after they first took the stage, they’re pretending they’re still alive.

That’s right. Michael Shepard & Co. are working on new material. They’ve incorporated it into various shows during the past four months:

Much to my chagrin, it sounds no less uncompelling than their last release, The Sucker Punch Show – a title that would be innocuous were it not so ironic. The mordancy is the ardent devotee gets suckered into buying a record that fails to show any significant punch.

A completely nebulous mishmash, the band’s final march with The Militia Group makes its previously mediocre effort – 2007’s Everything Starts Where It Ends – look like a Grammy contender. Continuing the trend of that album’s conclusion, this compilation slogs through tepid lethargy, largely void of the inspiration and raw aggression Lovedrug once embodied.

Shepard is a uniquely gifted composer when codified; however, as he despairs on “Blood Like” (the disc’s lone sufferable song), he has really caught his leg in a trap this time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have anyone to rescue him – not even esteemed recording engineer Michael Beinhorn, whose producer role is reduced to glorified knob-turner. Newcomers Jeremy Gifford, Thomas Bragg and James Childress are either incapable of providing marginal inventive supplements or were rendered impotent at Shepard’s behest.

The latter is more likely (and thus somewhat forgivable), yet ultimately inconsequential, since the musical peregrinations are unappealingly incongruent. The worst offenders, “Broken Home” and “My World” – horribly misguided forays into a kind of Wallflowers/Counting Crows hybrid folk pop – overtly seek radio-friendly status, a goal for which “Let It All Out” and “Only One” would have been far better suited if only afforded requisite cachet.

The few pieces possessing promise never fulfill it. “Everyone Needs a Halo” needs its head-banging crescendo as dominant rather than denouement. “Borrowed Legs” loses the demo version’s ethereal aesthetic, while the lounge groove that remains is wantonly cut off at the knees. Shepard unleashes puissant fury on “The Dirtiest Queen” before reverting to pedestrian time signatures, diminishing its coruscating chaos. “Fake Angels” could have secured a spot alongside lauded ballads “Down Towards the Healing” and “Salt of the Earth”, but gets derailed by a constrained bass line and mundane rhythms.

The morbid lyrical imagery – consistent enough to belie coincidence – probably foreshadows Lovedrug’s pending demise. It appears Shepard has lost his will to pursue the brass ring with the seventh incarnation (if I’m counting correctly) of a turbulent enterprise long sans direction and staggered by one too many industry slobberknockers. This CD, sadly, is the knockout blow.


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