Grant Lee Phillips
his is the third album of Phillips’ solo career, after his previous recording career with Grant Lee Buffalo. There are no surprises here: it’s rustic Americana and country inflected ballads all the way. A boringly functional record full of tediously average song writing, it’s the type of record that Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous would knock out on his tea-break. Except, instead of polishing these dullsville songs into a slick and professional album like Virginia Creeper, Linkous would realise that they’re semi-melodic, drab and forgettable, toss them away and write rocking fuzz-country stompers instead. With this in mind, perhaps the Linkous comparison is a red herring. But it does serve one important purpose: to demonstrate what a rubbish album this is!
Phillips has been releasing his songs for over a decade, garnering a reputation as a classic songwriter in the process. Seems like if you hang around with your “dusty, weather-beaten voice” and melancholic acoustic strumming for long enough, you’ll inevitably be hailed as a classic songwriter, and people will toss compliments like “neglected treasure” in your direction. “Classic” seems to be more of a description than a compliment, these days. It refers to a particularly earnest brand of music-making—a school of song writing rather than a standard of song writing. Phillips went to that classic school of song writing, but unfortunately no one recognised what a dunce he was—and now he’s a grizzled professor. “Virginia Creeper” is achingly, boringly “Classic”—from the tasteful use of cello and viola to the bland “adult” lyrics. Yawn.
Here’s what it comes down to, in the end: I can’t see any point in this record’s existence. Sure, there probably is one. If you liked Grant Lee Buffalo already (and many do), then I guess this won’t offend you. Phillips has to make a living somehow, and we shouldn’t begrudge him this right. Me? I think “Virginia Creeper” is worthless. And I suspect that many people who like country ballads will find that this is not the best example of the art-form, and they too will dismiss its bland and forgettable songwriting and lyrics. I also suspect that this is the sort of album that would impress Ryan Adams. He would probably listen to this in between sessions of recording similarly mediocre material. If not, he should. It’d do wonders to his self-esteem to hear someone worse than him for once.
Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2004-04-14