The Pernice Brothers
Discover A Lovelier You
’d like to tell you about something that I’ve come to call the curse of excellence. Essentially the curse revolves around the idea that when you do something really well (let’s say excellently) for too long, people begin to take it for granted. They yawn when you do something that for others would elicit shocked gasps of awe and hyperbolic streams of praise. It’s a despicable curse. How frustrating would it be to create an admirable addition to your body of work only to have your audience question its value simply because it’s more of the same great stuff.
Ever since Joe Pernice arrived on the scene in 1995 as the principal songwriter for Scud Mountain Boys he has wrapped himself in a number of different musical guises; each has been anchored by his signature melancholy, careful turn of phrase, and unique reading of Americana. Scud Mountain Boys lasted long enough to produce one of the 90’s most compelling albums in Massachusetts before breaking up. Subsequent projects by Pernice (The Pernice Brothers, Big Tobacco, Chappaquiddick Skyline) have elicited nothing but praise. Given the amount of ink spent on trumpeting Pernice as a songwriter of significant note, you might think that large-scale success is lurking just around the corner. It’s just that the mystic corner seems to always be a few blocks away.
Discover A Lovelier You is yet another album of pop tunes that continues a very clear trajectory begun with Overcome By Happiness and continued through Your, Mine & Ours. If you’re a fan of those records you will undoubtedly love Discover A Lovelier You. While the necessary PR will call these songs his best and most accomplished to date, the reality is that these songs could fit on just about any other Joe Pernice related project. The production may be turned up a bit on Discover A Lovelier You, but the songs themselves, especially when looked at in the context of his body of work, are simply a case of piling goodness on top of goodness. There aren’t any duds here, no throwaways, and nothing that isn’t imminently hummable. Could it be possible that I’ve become so numb to Pernice’s catchy guitar based pop that it has become a challenge to praise it? Ah, the curse of excellence.
The distinguishing feature of Discover A Lovelier You lies in its production. Pernice and longtime producer Thom Monahan have covered the songs in a sheen that recalls 80’s power pop (flourishes that would be at home on a Modern English album), expanding the band’s sonic palette with reverb, keyboards, programmed drums, and bits of studio trickery not present in earlier efforts.
Pernice’s motivations remain intact. The lyrics on Discover A Lovelier You, as with Yours, Mine & Ours, have a fascination with life’s uncomfortable intricacies. Everything from transportation related accidents (“Saddest Quo”’s train wreck) to questions of faith (“There Goes The Sun”) abound in these songs. It’s typical Pernice fare. His world vision is, as always, skewed towards the downtrodden, the challenges, and the discomfort that comes with being human. Few songwriters are as good as Pernice at unloading psychic baggage in song. This is in part due to the fact that he wraps his themes in the brightest pop melodies. This has always been Pernice’s strength: the clever dichotomy of a lyric couched in unmet expectations packaged in an upbeat, sunny musical wrapping. Discover A Lovelier You, like its predecessors, is crammed with hook and melody. “Saddest Quo” is as good as anything that Pernice has written. “Dumb It Down” is accented by competing sinewy keyboard lines playing cat and mouse in between the bright rhythm guitar and drums. Pernice’s refrain of “I don’t want to know” may reflect a bury your head in the sand attitude, but from someone as perpetually dissatisfied as Pernice it comes across as a well deserved break from chronicling his internal conflictions.
Discover A Lovelier You is as good an album as any in Joe Pernice’s discography. Ultimately history should be very kind to Pernice. It may be that his work will need to be viewed from a suitable distance to appreciate its consistent excellence. So I point my finger at the curse of excellence as the only plausible reason why Joe Pernice isn’t universally recognized as one of the best we’ve got and why, tragically, Discover A Lovelier You will be greeted with both steaming heaps of praise and shrugs of indifference. It’s really only appropriate that a confirmed sad sack like Pernice shoots himself in the foot with his own excellence.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-06-15