Halfway Down the Sky

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At the close of the '90s, it was nearly a crime for a band to just be a rock band. Any band whose roots lay in the album rock of the '70s and early '80s were still marketed as an alternative band -- even though all the steam had run out of the alternative rock movement. There were signs that radio and the public were beginning to accept straight-ahead pop/rock bands again -- witness the New Radicals' success -- but that was before Splender recorded their debut album Halfway Down the Sky. True, the group was raised on alternative rock, but they also were raised on album rock, resulting in an appealing melodic hybrid of anthemic hooks, serious lyrical matter and musical directness. Unfortunately, in the process of recording, Splender's talents became buried in a production that's neither modern nor classic rock. In the hands of producer Todd Rundgren -- a man who knows how to craft pop records -- the band's quirks are ironed out with loud electric guitars and '90s clich├ęs such as shifting dynamics. Rundgren may have thought his work was contemporary, but the end results feel strangely out of time. Halfway Down the Sky should have been given a straight-ahead, unadorned production, but as it stands, it's a weird blend of '70s songcraft, '80s gloss and '90s attitude. At times, Splender's skills shine through -- primarily on the softer tracks, or whenever the guitars fade into the background -- and when they do, the group sounds quite promising. Those moments just don't happen often enough on Halfway Down the Sky.

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