There is absolutely nothing memorable about Built To Spill’s latest release, “You In Reverse.” Don’t misunderstand the statement, though — the album is far from a dud. Yet in all its cacophonous glory, it is simply unmemorable. A 60-minute compilation of 600 different melodies and riffs, the album is a bombardment of distractions that combine to the point of confusion. Luckily for the band, when considered individually, each of the 600 different melodies are solid.
Ultimately, what is lacking in the album is a sense of cohesion; the band, which is based on the rambling guitar jams of frontman Doug Martsch, never quite comes together. This is probably a result of the Built’s transient line-up, which changes direction almost as often as their song structure. The band’s history falls just short of Destiny’s Child-esque humor, but with so many changes, the band has never reached a level of comfort — a fault never more obvious than on “You In Reverse”.
Like a confused Dinosaur Jr. revival, the album has an abundant arsenal of guitar sounds but lacks any foundation or direction. Perhaps one fundamental cause is the misplaced and misguided drum work of Scott Plouf. While the rest of the band is busy exploring eight-minute soundscapes, Plouf is busy plugging away on a two-and-a-half minute rocker. His snare-cymbal combinations keep the beat moving on otherwise meandering songs such as “The Wait,” but his consistency is ironically inconsistent with the experimental sounds. The Ringo Starr of the group, he fails to contribute any growth to the songs, and instead chooses one beat and sticks with it. He must have missed the A.D.D. memo that the rest of the band follows so devoutly.
On the other side of coin, the rest of the band is equally frustrating with its lack of direction. After an otherwise beautiful arpeggiated melody on “Just a Habit,” for example, the song completely devolves in structure as the band indulges in a bombastic two-and-a-half-minute guitar solo. If there is any question why the band consistently falls victim to these song-highjacking solos, one must only look to the lyrics; “There’s no reason for it … / It’s just a habit.” The solo and melody are both strongly emotive, but the lack of congruity and conclusion fails to make them worth the effort.
Then, most confusing, is the song “Mess With Time,” which starts out as a crunch-heavy platform for feedback-driven soloing. But, mid song, just as the solo borders on climax, Built to Spill jumps ship and kicks into head-bobbing tex-mex. The rhythms and melodies aren’t mundane — they just don’t make any sense. Proven by the work of their oft cited comparison, Neil Young, there is nothing wrong with taking abrupt changes in songs. But throughout the album, Built To Spill takes one left turn after another, leading them, invariably, nowhere.
It must be said, however, that the band shows amazing potential. Indeed, on songs such as their single, “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” the overlaying of sounds is entrancing. One guitar plays a driving rhythm, another performs the starting solo reinforced by a bass guitar, while another guitar part wails like a siren in the background. If not for the obnoxiously simple drumming, the song would be a hit. At the same time, who knows how much longer the eight-minute song could have seemed without the constant movement of Plouff’s little drummer-boy reenactment.
Another nugget on the album is found in the superiorly cohesive and least meandering “Liar.” On this song, Martsch’s lyrics and full-bodied vocals lead the march, providing a clear direction for the guitar cornucopia that otherwise lacks guidance on the rest of the album. While on other tracks the instrumentation rampages unleashed, here the guitar and drums tip-toe around Martsch, who emotionally laments, “She don’t mind/ She don’t care.”
It’s songs like “Liar” that redeem hope for the obviously talented and impressively unique Built To Spill. Hopefully their now firmly-established band lineup will eventually translate into a more articulately realized song structure. But until that time, Built To Spill will continue to shine only as a unique band desperately in need of some Adderall.