Sun, Sun, Sun
eleased almost exactly a year to the day of Bright Eyes’ twin releases, the two songwriters of former Saddle Creekers Rilo Kiley invite the same internal comparisons. Jenny Lewis’ album is the I’m Wide Awake, the stab at authenticity that’s destined to be wildly overrated and then promptly and permanently shelved months later. Sun, Sun, Sun, is almost the photographic negative of Digital Ash in sonic sense, but conceptually it’s similar in that the stakes are far lower and the rewards more lasting. In fact, with its soft embrace of C&W, lyrics that likely inspired Blogger subject titles fresh out the box, and the requisite post-Postal Service electronic touchups, Me First, The Elected’s 2004 debut, arguably did a better job of capturing the spirit of the excellent The Execution Of All Things than the lacquered magnapop of More Adventurous did.
If lead Electee Blake Sennett ever owned a pair of cowboy boots, he’s clearly traded them in for a clean pair of leather Rainbows from the sounds of Sun, Sun, Sun. It’s a good thing, since anyone affiliated with Saddle Creek seems to have trouble approximating straight country; the Mel Bay chord progressions and “ad-libbed” c’mon!s are there, but the sound itself seems eerily twangless. The band claims it’s their homage to the mellow gold of Jim Croce and early Grateful Dead, but Sun will more realistically serve as a gateway drug to latter day Elliott Smith. In fact, late album highlight “Desiree” sounds like the outdoor version of “Pitseleh.”
But any changes from Me First aren’t apparent from the first cursory listen. Given the proper glitchy goosing, the traditionalist verse stylings of leadoffs “Would You Come With Me” and “Fireflies In A Steel Mill” would’ve fit right in on the predecessor. And then comes “Not Going Home,” which makes good on Sun’s promises of unseasonable warmth. Most of the criticisms levied on The Elected center around how Blake Sennett’s vocal presence isn’t enough to really sustain an entire album, and for the most part, that still holds true. But something’s different here; the guitars tremolo purposefully. The drums are insistent instead of loping. Then the chorus hits, and the vocal harmonies are assured instead of ghostly. It becomes clear: this is the first Sennett song to wow you.
Most of what follows holds water, but Sennett blows nearly all of the goodwill with “You Did Me Good,” which attempts to be The Elected’s “I Never,” the garish and gauche attempt at a soul showstopper from More Adventurous. Amidst a parodic sledgehammer waltz, the bendy guitars herald Miller Time and the piano and horn sounds will have Swizz Beatz casting doubts on their claimed authenticity. But it doesn’t go truly batshit until the early frontrunner for “Worst Musical Moment of 2006” reveals itself when Sennett adopts a heinous sing/speak vocal affectation that manages to recall Jack Black and Jack White at the same time.
Sun, Sun, Sun never fully recovers from “You Did Me Good.” Making sure that the album title is as accurate as possible at a time when its summery glow seems cruelly out of reach, the latter half of Sun still brings the pain, but in songs with names like “Old Times,” “I’ll Be Your Man,” “Beautiful Rainbow” and the seven-minute “Biggest Star.” While Sennett is often compared to Elliott Smith, at least vocally, there’s far more Badly Drawn Boy in his persona; his voice warbles meekly about waking up with the sun, eating butter, and smiling oceans, even while the egotism lingers. And really, Sun, Sun, Sun is the perfect way for meek and egotistic sulkers to Trojan horse indie into the iPods of crushes who aren’t ready for, say, Grandaddy.