Skip to main content

43. Mutual Admiration Society - Self-Titled (2004)

From the curiosity department:

Mutual Admiration Society (MAS) is a musical Frankenstein with the body of blugrass trio Nickel Creek and the head of Toad the Wet Sprocket (lead man Glen Phillips). What mad scientist dreamed this up? What was the intention behind it? Was it for art's sake? Or are there plans to unleash it and attempt world domination?

Disregarding questions about its origin, the album is a surprise in a few ways. For one, it's not as twangy as you'd expect. This is a mostly quiet, ponderous set, and the Nickel Creekers' contributions are quite subtle and understated. In fact, it's almost like a Toad album with a bit more mandolin, fiddle and harmony.

There are 11 songs. Two were written by Sean Watkins (the pretty La Lune and the instrumental Reprise), three are covers, and the remaining six are Phillips originals. Of these, it's perhaps not coincidental that the two standouts are the two sole uptempo tracks on the record, Sake of the World and Be Careful. The other four, as mentioned above, could have easily slotted into a Toad album like Pale; they're slow and a bit aimless, but cast a light spell nonetheless.

The covers are more interesting. One, Trouble, is a Jon Brion tune from his self-released 2000 album Meaningless. (In case you don't know Brion has produced and written with lots of artists, including Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann.) The group displays great taste not only in choosing this song but also in sticking with the original arrangement. Phillips' voice is better than Brion's so that's a plus for this version; the minus is the fact that Brion's lyrics are so focused and wry that they create a sharp contrast to the other songs on the record, which tend to be more lyrically obtuse and earnest.

The other covers are a Harry Nilsson tune (Think About Your Troubles) and a new version of Toad's Windmills (from my personal fave Toad album, Dulcinia). What strikes me about the latter is that given a chance to do something dramatically different with the arrangement, MAS chooses not to. Instead, the song is almost exactly like the Toad version, but with a bit less production and a bit more harmony. It makes me wonder why they did it at all.

And that's kinda how I feel about this whole project. Yeah, there's nothing wrong with it, but I still wonder why it happened. Adding to this is the fact that the album isn't even fresh: the liner notes say it was recorded over six days in 2000. Think about that! Several bands have come and gone since then!

Even more damning is the package design. It seems to have been created without the input of the artists by someone who didn't listen to the record. The cover features a man (none of the band members) looking out the window of a meeting room. There are coffee and donuts on the table, as well as an agenda. I suppose it's a play off the band's name (get it, a mutual admiration society meeting where only one member shows up?). It's mildly clever, but doesn't suit the mood of the music one bit. This bothers me.

So in the end, MAS is a pretty little album of very little consequence. It's really hard to hate but equally difficult to get excited about. In other words, a curiosity.

Rating: B-
Fave Song: Be Careful

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

12 by Weezer

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... I decided to take an unconventional route for this 12 by, and pretend Weezer have already released a "greatest hits." Here's what I think that would look like:  1) "Buddy Holly", 2) "Undone - the Sweater Song", 3) "My Name Is Jonas", 4) "The Good Life", 5) "El Scorcho", 6) "Hash Pipe", 7) "Island in the Sun", 8) "Dope Nose", 9) "Keep Fishin'", 10) "Beverly Hills", 11) "We Are All On Drugs", 12) "Pork and Beans".  Here's a different take: 1. " Say It Ain't So"  (from Weezer , 1994)  A little bit heavy, a little bit catchy, quiet-loud dynamics. So basically, it's Pixies lite. The song is interesting lyrically because it's basically nonsense until the "Dear daddy..." bridge, which lets out a t

12 by Jenny Lewis

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... Completely separate from Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has put together an impressive oeuvre that is very difficult to winnow down to just 12 songs (if you include her work with Rilo Kiley, fuhgeddaboudit). But I've made what I feel is a valiant attempt. Because I admire Jenny's lyrics so much, I'm going to limit my commentary to a favorite couplet from the song. (If you have Amazon Music Unlimited, you can listen along here .) 1. "Rise Up With Fists!!!" (from Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "But you can wake up younger, under the knife / And you can wake up sounder, if you get analyzed." 2. "Melt Your Heart" (from  Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "It's like a valentine from your mother / It's bound to melt your heart." 3. "Born Secular" (from Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "God works in mysterious ways / And God give

12 by Vicious Vicious

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... If you need a reference point for the work of Vicious Vicious mastermind Erik Appelwick, the most appropriate would be Beck. Like Mr. Hansen, Minnesota-based Appelwick has the ability to navigate between making you laugh and making you cry and making you want to dance, and embraces genres from country to R& B to folk to pop.  I've included songs from the two albums Appelwick did under the name Tropical Depression, because honestly there's not a lot of difference between that and Vicious Vicious.  I very literally  wrote the book  on Appelwick, so please feel confident you are hearing from an authority here.  If you have Amazon Music Unlimited, you can listen to an alternate version of list here  (sadly, not all of VV's music is on the service). 1. "Shake That Ass on the Dance Floor" (from Blood + Clover , 2003) A loungy, laconic come-on