Jump, Little Children

Vertigo

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Jettisoned by their previous label after recording this elaborate sophomore effort, Vertigo was belatedly released on an indie imprint in 2001. Jump, Little Children plies an ornate, highly stylized Counting Crows-ish affected folk-pop with twisting, some might argue meandering song structures and a reliance on singer Jay Clifford's soaring, spotlight-hogging vocals and obtuse lyrics. With an almost-operatic emotive approach somewhere between Rufus Wainwright, Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook, and even Donovan, this is all Clifford's show, which is a mixed blessing. Except for a few early tracks, the overwrought tunes are crammed with ideas, leaving little room for melodies. Clifford sings...and sings...and sings with swooning histrionic flair and obvious intensity. The songs are so densely constructed and lyrically congested, it's difficult to penetrate their sweeping ornamentation. The rest of the band facelessly supports Clifford's near-solo performance with only standup bassist Jonathan Gray's intricate work jumping out of the vocal-dominated mix. The string quartet on "Yearling" practically overwhelms the tune's oblique melody. Occasionally, as on the lilting "Words of Wisdom," all the pieces meld together to produce a pure piece of pop influenced heavily by Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom. More often, as on "The House Our Father Knew," Jump, Little Children tries too hard to craft a major statement, boldly aiming for U2 drama and falling far short. The hushed spoken-word poetry of "Singer" is accompanied only by percussion and mournful cello sounds, cloying and pompous. The disc's centerpiece is the seven-minute, string-laden "Mother's Eyes," which seems twice as long as it plods through multiple verses with Clifford slipping into angelic falsetto, seemingly making up more as he goes. Undeniably well-constructed and intentioned, JLC too often trades tunefulness for grandiose poetic ambition. Regardless of the band's lighthearted name, the dizzying Vertigo is ambitious, often pretentious, serious adult pop music few will jump along with.

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