Semisonic

All About Chemistry

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Since the mid-'90s, Semisonic has been inspiring the overuse of words like "literate," "smart," and "well-written" by reviewers everywhere. All About Chemistry doesn't do anything to change that: It is a suite of 12...well, smart and immaculately crafted songs, all seemingly destined for the charts, yet also possessing enough lyrical muscle to elevate them above the level of guilty pleasure. Chemistry injects a heavy dose of piano into Semisonic's former copybook college rock sound, moving the group a few steps closer to the adult pop bracket. "Sunshine and Chocolate" is full of a sensual shimmer, borne along on a tune that is peppy in the best possible way. "Act Naturally" blends sweetness, prettiness, and heartbreak in perfect proportions. "I Wish" dissolves its thwarted desires in a slow-burning, "Layla"-esque coda. And "One True Love," written with Carole King (who also sings backup and plays piano on the track), is both slightly desolate and wholly lovely -- a dream of a perfect love-to-be that also perhaps contains hints of regret for the seemingly inevitable moment when a dream is all it will turn out to be. Frontman and lyricist Dan Wilson creates interestingly human characters, people frayed by love and tossed about by contradictory impulses, not knowing what they want and wanting it all the same. Drummer Jacob Slichter proves he's no pushover in the writing department with "El Matador," a wispy and impressionistic tune that gently references Joni Mitchell while waving goodbye to the summer: "Lying on the couch defenseless/With blue clouds court and spark." Only one song feels like a dud -- "Get a Grip," a charmless but ingratiating paean to self-love that feels...er, tossed off. That apart, Chemistry is almost perfectly balanced -- sweet but not sugared, clever but not wiseass, crafted but not cold.

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