Sometimes the hardest thing about critiquing music is keeping my own personal tastes out of the opinion I express. In theory, it shouldn't matter if I'm writing about someone who performs disco, heavy metal, thrash, folk, or country. What I try to be concerned with is how well the performer(s) work within the context of their chosen genre.
Of course I know my own personal tastes well enough to avoid reviewing stuff that I can't listen to without either getting a migraine or throwing up, which is why you'll never see a review of something like Boy George or Poison under my name. It might also explain why I write very few outright negative reviews; a group or performer will have to fail to pretty badly in their attempts at meeting the obligations of their preferred form of expression in order for that to happen.
That being said I also have to admit that I'm still far less easily impressed or easy to please than it seems most people are today, which has led in the past to some disagreements between general consensus and myself. But as I point out to those who question my judgment based on the fact that I didn't love something that everybody else raved about, why should it matter so much if I don't think something's that great if everyone else loves it?
I respect and admire anyone's attempts at real creativity too much to enjoy criticizing their offerings. Especially difficult are those times where an individual obviously has talent and has made a genuine effort at finding a means unique to themselves for their expression instead of merely following an existent formula that would ensure commercial success.
Personal artistic integrity is something to be nurtured anywhere it is found, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be held to account just like any other music. It's a worse crime, in my opinion, to not offer warranted constructive criticism than to ignore flaws that could continue to develop unchecked to the detriment of the performer. This is especially true in the case of young performers, like the one I'm reviewing today.
Andrew Collberg is a young man, originally born in Sweden, living in Arizona, who at nineteen is already having his music compared to the early work of Bob Dylan and the melodic feel of some of the later Beatles' catalogue. These are some pretty heavy expectations for his first CD, Andrew Collberg to live up to, and it's no crime that it doesn't.
According to the biographical information supplied, Andrew has been playing music since he was quite young, and began experimenting with recording techniques while in his early teens. There is no denying his talent as a musician or as a vocalist. Not only does he play all the instruments on this CD, he has also supplied the lead vocals and the harmonies.
Lyrically he also has a good eye and ear for what works as imagery in a song, and is able to utilize that to good effect to offer poetic turns of phrase. He creates the sense of the emotions that are implicit in phrases even when they are not spoken generating a level of real tension that is not often found in a performer twice his age.
All this sounds pretty good so far doesn't it, and it did for the first few songs. I could hear what people meant by his sound having similarities to the Beatles circa Let It Be, the song "Across The Universe" specifically came to mind. While he may not be any Bob Dylan (was Bob Dylan Bob Dylan when he was nineteen?) why should he be? It's a different time and a different place.
But (yes here's the but you've been hearing since I started) as the disc progressed I noticed I was having a harder and harder time paying attention to it. It began to sound like one endless drone. That sounds a lot harsher then I mean it to, but it's a reflection of the effects he's chosen to use on his voice to create that "Across The Universe" sound.
If you're not familiar with the song, the Beatles used a type of echo/reverb on it that lent their voices an ethereal quality. It feels like Mr. Collberg utilized this effect throughout the entirety of his disc so eventually the songs all sound the same. Occasionally my attention would be caught by the introduction of the banjo or the harmonica into a song, but that diversion would soon pass.
What made it possible to listen to whole albums by people like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in the days when they were singing unaccompanied and unadorned was the rawness of their sound. Neither man has the most spectacular of vocal ranges, and so there was something very real about them straining to hit the notes at their furthest reaches. There was a human element involved.
I'm not saying that Mr. Collberg isn't human, his depth of feeling is obvious in his writing, but to my mind his production values rob his lyrics of their potential. They should be allowed to predominate, and not be so inundated with effects that the songs become indistinguishable. It almost appears like he is unsure whether he wants people to listen to the lyrics at all.
Andrew Collberg is a young man just starting out on what should be a long and promising career. His first disc, Andrew Collberg shows plenty of promise, but in my mind it also shows weaknesses that need to be addressed. But then again that's my opinion so take it with as many grains of salt as you like. I'd suggest buying the disc and forming your own conclusions.
Andrew Collberg will be for sale at Amazon.com and other places of repute on-line as of December 5th 2006.