Neilson Hubbard

Why Men Fail

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Neilson Hubbard's 1997 solo debut, The Slide Project, was a textbook example of straight-up power pop. Unfortunately, parts of it sound like it could have been recorded by a dozen other power pop bands. Originality wasn't really that album's strong suit, though it was a perfectly pleasant listen. On the other hand, the 2001 follow-up, Why Men Fail, is an entirely different beast, and it definitely doesn't sound like a standard-issue power pop album. The album title is the first tip-off: This is not sunny, upbeat music. These 12 songs are mostly hushed minor-key ballads, stately tempos, and vocals that sound like they were recorded in a library. The sound makes a lot more sense when one discovers that the Mississippi native got his start in a Galaxie 500 cover band; with its anguished vocals, acoustic guitar, and mournful strings, the opening "Towns" sounds like it could have come directly off This Is Our Music. Even the more up-tempo songs, like the mildly funky "The Last American Hero," which features an ultra-distorted clavinet that makes it sound like an outtake from Cotton Mather's Kon-Tiki, are rather dark, and the overall effect of listening to the whole album in one sitting can be pretty bleak. On the other hand, the songwriting is much more consistent this time around, and the arrangements feature enough cool touches and varied sounds to keep the album from sounding as monochromatic musically as it does lyrically. Power pop purists might consider Why Men Fail a little too much of a downer, but fans of the darker side of June and the Exit Wounds or Richard Davies will be intrigued.

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