What Made Milwaukee Famous

What Doesn't Kill Us

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In 2004, Austin's What Made Milwaukee Famous self-released their debut, Trying to Never Catch Up (later re-released in 2006 in a slightly different format on Barsuk), a hodgepodge of musical styles and influences that still managed to coalesce as a strong, catchy set. These same notions prevail with the band's second album, What Doesn't Kill Us, but unfortunately, the new songs (and inspirations) tend to drive the band away from the power pop it has done so well with toward more mainstream rock and pop territory. There are still some well-crafted pieces here -- "Self-Destruct" has predictable yet fun vocal lines and breakdowns, "Sultan" is pure Spoon (when Britt Daniel is in his Billy Joel idolizing mode), and "Resistance St." draws from the ornate, undulating, horn-heavy style Beirut's Zach Condon has helped popularize and develop while still sounding original -- but toward the second half of the album, things take a turn for the trite. "Prevailing Wind" and "And the Grief Goes On" rely on soft acoustic guitars and mainstream radio-ready melodies to guide them, and both "Middle of the Night" and "To Each His Own" are almost painful in their departure from Big Star pop to the mid-'90s "Sister Hazel at a campfire" stuff presented here. What Made Milwaukee Famous are clearly trying to end What Doesn't Kill Us on a positive note (to contrast, perhaps, with the darker notions expressed earlier in the record), but in doing so they replace their witty(ish) lyrics ("If you don't cut your losses before you get lost, they're never going to leave you alone," from "Sultan") with hackneyed phrases like "Somewhere, in the middle of the night/Everything's going to be all right, all right" ("Middle of the Night") or "What's the use in hope if we're afraid of trying?" in the closer, "The Other Side." It's too bad What Doesn't Kill Us finishes up like that, because it could have ended up being a strong sophomore effort. Instead, in its attempts to preach and uplift, it comes across as something of a slump.

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