December 2001

Grant Lee Phillips - Mobilize
Uni/ZoŽ 431021
Released: 2001

by Anthony DiMarco

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

[Reviewed on CD]It’s ironic how good music takes time to be appreciated, while less inspired music tends to be fleeting in its effect on a listener. You may be listening to the radio one day and find a particular song catchy and infectious, only to go out, buy the album, and realize the same song goes limp after a couple of spins. So is the art of engineering the perfect disposable hit, and the need for us humans to feel instant gratification. It was also the trap that I nearly fell into when first cocking an ear to Mobilize.

I hadn’t even heard of Grant Lee Phillips, much less knew of his latest album. I was in the middle of some home improvement work when I decided to demo the CD while installing a suspended ceiling. Now whether it was the mood I was in or the aggravation I felt installing those damned acoustic panels, I found very little about Mobilize that made me stop and take notice. "See America" for instance, hooked me right away with a building harmony replete with acoustic guitar and strings. But sadly, it collapsed into a meandering chorus which completely undermined the drama of its opening. Indifferent to what I heard, I threw Mobilize to the side.

A few days later, I decided to give Mobilize another chance -- this time listening through Grado Headphones via a Creek OBH-11 amp and Sony CD player, rather than my basement boom box. Almost immediately I started noticing more of this album’s superior production qualities. Despite still sounding a bit thin in the bass and vocals, ambient sounds came out in "Humankind," and "Spring Released," while Phillips' sometimes Bono-esque (U2 not Sonny), tenor became a bit more fleshed out in many of the songs. I was indeed starting to enjoy many of the songs, but unfortunately still felt that "See America" lacked an emotional payoff.

As days passed, I found myself going back to Mobilize -- if only to listen for more hidden sounds within its sonic tapestry: A synth emanating from the rear of stage left on "Like a Lover," the slight scratching that played tag with the mid-point between my ears during "Love is a Mystery," the subtle tambourine that accentuated the yearning and desperation of "Sadness Soot" -- these all contributed to an increasingly impressive soundscape. What’s more, Phillips’ lyrics also started growing on me. Lines like "Whispers on the airways / Robin to the Bat Cave / nearly cracked the crime wave" had a charming, playful pacing about them, while choruses like "She’s got the Sadness Soot / It’s doing me good / Embrace the solitude / It’s doing me good" singled out "Sadness Soot" as Mobilize’s best cut.

I’ve listened to Mobilize repeatedly and keep finding more to like about Grant Lee Phillips’ second solo effort. I'll definitely be picking up Ladies’ Love Oracle or some of his "Buffalo" effort. Isn’t it funny how impressions can change so dramatically, given the chance? All things considered, I’m happy that I didn’t experience my first taste of Mobilize over the radio.