We all have certain criteria we use when deciding to plop down $12.99 for a new CD. I will pay full price for a CD if I know that at least half of the songs are decent. For a $3.99 used disc, I become a brazen gambler (as evidenced by a closet full of crap that will never again see the light of day). I just did the math on Grant Lee Buffalo’s Jubilee, and this was a close one down the stretch. I’ve rated the songs as follows: a) would listen to while happily driving to Burger King for a refreshing frosty shake (good); b) would listen to as light background music while watching reruns of The A-Team (so-so); or c) would listen to if deaf (just plain repugnant). With Jubilee, I would listen to seven songs while happily driving to Burger King, five songs watching reruns of The A-Team, and two songs if I were deaf. That’s actually not too bad, though it should be noted that I’m six years out of college and still taking 0-credit intermediate algebra classes. (For a statistical breakdown of the specific songs, feel free to e-mail me.)
If Grant Lee Buffalo frontman Grant Lee Phillips didn’t metamorphose into Eddie Vedder on songs such as “APB” and “Seconds,” the results could have been even better. But if Eddie Vedder happens to be your cup ‘o tea, then this record may suit you even more than it does me. Grant Lee Phillips has a fantastic, strong vocal capacity with a soaring falsetto many would kill, or at least lightly bruise, for. Yet in his quest to record a release with a fresh sound, several imposters pop up on the album, including Vedder, REM, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Bono. Michael Stipe literally appears on “Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary,” offering very Stipe-like grunts and groans. I swear this song fell right off of REM’s Document. “Come to Mama, She Say” is also the best REM song I’ve heard since “Fall on Me.” I don’t care if the two songs are ’80s REM reincarnate; it’s great stuff regardless. And hey, if it doesn’t bother Michael Stipe, then it doesn’t bother me.
Jubilee is a tasty jambalaya of whiskey-swiggin’ ragtime and Americana folk-rock (though they’re not shy about cranking up the guitars either). GLB is at their best with songs like “Testimony” and “The Shallow End,” which borrow from no one but themselves and showcase Phillips’ songwriting talents. The title track confuses me though. It is sort of a Sesame Street Lennonesque saloon-style rocker (how’s that for a category?). I’m left wanting to do a shot of tequila with Guy Smiley.
Popular radio seems to have taken a shine to “Truly, Truly.” As they should. It’s a bonafide hummer. But if a song this catchy doesn’t take them to the next level, I’m not sure Grant Lee Buffalo will ever get there. They may have to find solace in being one of Michael Stipe’s favorite bands.
I’m not completely sold on some critics’ perception of them as being one of the most overlooked bands worthy of this, that and the other thing, but for a sunny afternoon drive, with a frosty shake in hand, Jubilee hits the spot.