The other day I wrote a review of the reissue of The Gaslight Anthem’s seminal “The ’59 Sound” album and disappeared down a reverential road. Well, at the risk of having MV turn into an episode of All Our Yesterdays, news that The Gin Blossoms were releasing an album had much the same effect.
You see, “Mixed Reality” might be their first album for eight years, but the band will forever be – along with Counting Crows – the soundtrack to my mid to late teens.
With both bands it started with one line. Crows had “we all want something beautiful” on “Mr. Jones” and became the crutch with which all unrequited love affairs (and christ, there were many) should be soothed. TGB had something on “Hey Jealousy” – the second track on their wonderful “New Miserable Experience” record that became a metaphor for life. Released in 1992 – about the time my GCSE results were in if I recall – it had the thought that: “if you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” And that, my friends, would be the title of my autobiography if it was ever written.
There is a point to all this musing – promise – and its this. For “Mixed Reality” might be a new record, but it sounds like those classic strains of 26 years ago. A fact that the band themselves aren’t even hiding. “I managed to hack into a young version of myself to craft songs” reckons singer Robin Wilson. “All of us turned in our best work in 25 years. Regardless of commercial outcome, I know ‘Mixed Reality’ is special, and that we’ve lived up to our legacy.”
And its clear right from the brilliant opener “Break” that both emotionally and sonically they are coming from that type of place. They always wrapped their melancholy into shiny harmonies, and they do here too, before some fine lead work from Jesse Valenzuela.
“Face The Dark” is superbly blue collar, echoes of Tom Petty and all the clues in the world as to where the aforementioned Gaslight Anthem pilfered from.
This album sees them work with Don Dixon – a production veteran of power pop legend – and there are hints of that throughout, notably on the highlight “New Mexico Trouble” – key line, “if you can’t tell the truth, write a song” – while the chug of “Angels Fly” allied to its keyboard sound is deliberately not of this vintage, and all the better for it too.
Familiar but fresh is the mantra of all here. “Here Again” is full of power chords and timelessness, while the shimmering sunlight of “Still Some Room In Heaven” is at odds with its lyrics and, it should be said too, that there is an almost effortless cool about work like “Miranda Chicago”, which even finds the time for trumpets.
The finger clicking accompaniment to “Girl On The Side” adds urgency, while the storyline has a very Fountains Of Wayne vignette about it, and if they’ve always had a southern rock, country tinge, then it’s right here on “Fortunate Street”.
Just occasionally The Gin Blossoms sound content, and here on “Wonder” they sound as if they are floating on air, even if they are looking back on their own lives in much the same way as everyone else.
Then towards the end, there’s a couple of stark reminders that this was a band that you never could quite second guess. There’s a punky attitude to “Shadow” for one thing, then “The Devils Daughter” is absolutely jarring in its imagery. This is a world of hedonism, yes, but one with consequences where you “come over drunk and horny” but then you’re “coked up, so I can’t always keep it up.” – and if that’s shocking then you don’t really understand The Gin Blossoms.
Because while that one has filthy intentions and harmonica to match, then sandwiching the pair is the mellow “Forever Is This Night” as if to exemplify their extremes, while the closing “Mega Pawn King” jangles like prime REM (although the opening couple of bars don’t half sound like Ugly Kid Joe’s “Everything About You” for my money), but more than that, like always, it is filled with local Arizona landmarks as it always was – they were products of their home state and so it is here.
The sound of 25 years of life crammed into 15 songs. “Mixed Reality” is a quite brilliant record. Get ready to wallow in their new miserable experience, as it were.