Better Than Ezra

Before the Robots

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With the rather cryptically titled Before the Robots, Better Than Ezra settles down into a comfortable adult pop groove, no longer dabbling in the hip-hop and electronica that has surfaced on every album since 1997's How Does Your Garden Grow? In its place is a surprisingly soulful undercurrent that surfaces on such laid-back highlights as "Daylight" and "It's Only Natural." Instead of pointing Better Than Ezra in a new direction, these soulful pop tunes are used as accents on a collection of straight-ahead, anthemic, songwriter-driven rock. While there are still some snarls of electric guitars, Before the Robots is largely a meditative work, built on acoustic guitars; even when it hits hard and gets loud, it's with layers of vocal harmonies, keyboards, and guitars creating a rush of sound, emphasizing the emotional thrust of songwriter Kevin Griffin's songs. There are some light moments here -- including the supremely silly but infectious "Juicy," where Griffin struts a rarely heard falsetto over a funky vamp -- but the overall tone of the record drives from the melancholy, vaguely nostalgic vibe of such songs as "A Lifetime," "American Dream," and "Our Finest Year." These reflective sentiments add weight to Better Than Ezra's earnest rock, and help make Before the Robots one of the group's sturdiest, most satisfying albums.

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