Grandaddy

Just Like the Fambly Cat

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Grandaddy's final album before taking a long break serves as a timely reminder of the group's strengths, as they manage to pull themselves out of the slump they were in and deliver a fine epitaph. Their previous album, Sumday, was a disappointment, a definite comedown from the heights of Sophtware Slump. It sounded like the work of a band coasting along without any commitment to the material -- a good band with some fine songs, but still failing to live up to its potential. Just Like the Fambly Cat sounds like the work of a band with something to prove, but really it's the solo work of the band's chief songwriter and vocalist, Jason Lytle. He took over the reins of the band, and with the occasional help of drummer Aaron Burtch, recorded everything himself. Whether it's the frustration born of the band falling apart or the need to make a dramatic statement, the album is full of the passion and energy that were mostly lacking on Sumday. Certainly "Jeez Louise," the fiery rocker that kicks off the album, dispels any fear that the record might be as laid-back and detached as Sumday was at its core. So do the handful of similarly energetic tunes like the new wavey instrumental "Skateboarding Saves Me Twice," the cheesy drum machine-driven "Elevate Myself," and the surging "Disconnecty." The diversity of sounds on the album is nice and keeps things interesting on the surface, but what really jump-starts the proceedings are two things: first, the sheer tunefulness of the midtempo songs like the wistful "Summer... It's Gone," "Campershell Dreams," and "This Is How It Always Starts," which drift like autumn leaves blowing across front lawns, blown gently along by gentle vocal harmonies, richly layered guitars, cheap keyboards, and Lytle's fragile vocals; and second, the epic sweep of the ballads like "Guide Down Denied," the guitar blowout "Rear View Mirror," and "The Animal World." There is a depth of emotion and seriousness here that had been missing on Sumday, Lytle's vocals have a gravity they lacked before, and he seems to mean every note he plays this time. Not that sincerity means much when there are no melodies you can hum in the shower -- here you get both. Grandaddy's breakup seemed like an afterthought when it was announced a couple months before the release of Fambly Cat; now it seems like a real shame, like they will be missed.

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