Big Umbrella is of note for serving as the creative outlet for Steve Refling, who become a producer and engineer of note (Cockeyed Ghost, Wonderboy, the Negro Problem) on the L.A. pop scene of the late '90s, but on its debut album, the band hadn't yet secured a sound of their own. The Police and U2 seem to be particularly looming influences, not so much on the songwriting as in the angular, architectural rhythms and the swirling, Edge-like guitar lines, particularly on the Big Country-ish "Big Umbrella," the album's best song. The pale Who-styled dynamics of "Sell It Back (Caroline)" are also a nice touch, and the worldbeat tone of "Joy" makes for a breezy closing number. It sounds a little out of place for 1992. The production is a little on the trebly new wave side, giving the whole thing a rather thin sound. Metallic solos also blemish some of the songs, this in the era of grunge and the commercial rebirth of punk. Crowded House, anyway, had already beaten Big Umbrella to this sound (and did it better) a half-decade previously. And while Fruit is melodically interesting for the most part, and the songwriting is, by and large, fine, the band simply doesn't manage to generate a whole lot of steam. In the face of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it left the music sounding a bit anemic and edgeless. Nevertheless, pulled out of its era, this is pretty solid stuff and an overall decent first effort. Still, it is a bit derivative to have much sticking power.
by Stanton Swihart