The Calling

Two

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Relax, America: the Calling has taken up the marshmallow gauntlet. Horning in on the country's desire for a new, homegrown Savage Garden, vocalist Alex Band and instrumentalist Aaron Kamin have ditched all peripheral Calling personnel and any semblance of individual craft for Two, the follow-up to "Wherever You Will Go" and Camino Palmero, their impossibly successful 2001 debut. Working once again with producer Marc Tanner -- he of beige fare like Vonray and the Smallville soundtrack -- Band and Kamin shed sensitive tears on the sandy ground between U2 balladry and Matchbox Twenty, emulating both but never adding enough of anything to be memorable or personal. "Is there love tonight/When everyone's dreaming," Band emotes on "Our Lives." "We've got to believe that/There's a reason we're here." Sonically, the track is a third-generation rewrite of the Matchbox hit "Real World," but its lyrics are so face-meltingly opaque, it makes Rob Thomas look like Rob Zombie. During their brief late-'90s reign, Savage Garden had a few blooms of genuine light rock songcraft ("Truly Madly Deeply" being a prime example). Even if the sound danced delicately with the maudlin, the group's intent for Air Supply greatness was genuine and true. With the Calling, there's no passion, nor any attempt to add even a bubble of individualism to the foamy spume of non-threatening MOR. From "Chasing the Sun" ("She's like a sweet summer") to "Anything" ("Where your fire burns/In a city of angels"), there's only the fallow soil of strip-mined Bono karaoke. Later, there's the mildly switched-up jangle of "Dreaming in Red" and "Surrender." They're probably the best thing Two has to offer -- Band and Kamin manage some sass and brash feeling -- but that only gets them closer to Lifehouse's vapor trails. The Calling: the alternative to having an opinion.

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