August 1999

Gene Loves Jezebel - VII
Robison Records RRCD 0001
Released: 1999

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Last fall I had the pleasure of listening to, and writing about, Jay Aston’s Unpopular Songs [Pink Gun Records PGCD 2]. It is a well-written, acoustic-guitar-based collection of melodically infectious tunes that also happen to possess some of the most depressing lyrics of all time. And this has relevance here because Jay Aston happens to be the lead songwriter for Gene Loves Jezebel. So it was with great interest that I spun VII to see how it compared with Aston’s solo effort.

Four of the Unpopular Songs have made it to the new disc. While everyone else has been busy "unplugging," Aston, obviously not one to jump on the bandwagon, decided to plug these four tracks in, proving, as he did with his solo release, that he is more interested in doing his own thing than doing what is popular.

The electro-charged versions differ substantially from their acoustic siblings. It fascinates me how drastically the meaning of the exact same words can change just by varying the tempo, vocal delivery and musical environment in which they are articulated. "Love Keeps Dragging Me Down" is transformed from a Prozac antidote into a sardonic statement on love. "Who Wants to go to Heaven" and "The Good-Bye Girl" lack the same degree of angst and depression, but they are still very palatable, albeit in a different way -- in their jazzed-up new clothes. And "When We Were One" suffers somewhat in its up-tempo form, as it seems lyrically to be more apropos as a slower pace and simpler acoustic arrangement.

Aston proved beyond a reasonable doubt with Unpopular Songs that he has a knack for begetting memorable melodies. VII is no exception as it contains more hooks than a fisherman’s tackle box. One listen to "Liquor Man," "Uptown" or any number of other songs on this CD and you will have the main melody bouncing inescapably around in your head. Aston also proves himself a solid pop-rock arranger. He often meshes more than one theme simultaneously, and effectively I might add, as in the chorus of "Welcome to L.A.," which is the most interesting and diverse track on VII. It starts with four bars of grunge guitar, segues into eight bars of picked non-distorted electric-guitar chords with flighty female vocal accompaniment, then alternates back and forth between the two, and includes some hilarious commentary on life in Los Angeles. "Come Naturally" follows in a similar pattern, its heavy-handed guitars and rumbling bass drum and floor toms weaving in and out with the more subdued parts of the tune. Other songs on VII, like "Know I Love You," roll leisurely along in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Tom Petty or Lou Reed, but with a slightly harder edge.

Although this Gene Loves Jezebel reunion release isn’t trendy enough to appeal to the masses, it does contain enough gems to make owning VII more than worthwhile for existing fans. Personally speaking, I am impressed with the band's effort to update its sound and to do so without sacrificing its artistic integrity.