Sunday, July 05, 2009

Hangin' Down At The Riviera

Big Head Todd & The Monsters


Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
For a while there, it seemed like every town had a band like Big Head Todd & the Monsters -- and, if you live in a college town, you probably still have at least one that does. They're a roots band in the post-R.E.M. age, turning out serious, melodic, lightly jangly guitar rock that's very earnest and straight-ahead. At the height of alt-rock, they were on the cusp of success, but they pushed too hard -- hard enough that they wound up compromising their sound without the commercial rewards. This happened on two successive efforts, and they eventually retreated for a long, long time, taking five years between studio records before reappearing in 2002 with Riviera. This is a modest affair, never pushing too hard toward radio or to their jam roots. Frankly, after two deliberately calculated albums, the return to their simple roots is welcome, especially since they've cut away all excessive tendencies and made a clean, rather melodic, enjoyable record. There is no "Bittersweet" -- and even if there were one, it probably wouldn't get them radio play in 2002 -- but the songs are all sturdy, whether they're rockers (like the first-rate opener "Julianna"), or contemplative ballads, and they resonate because the group no longer is swinging for the bleachers, they're simply playing the game the best they know how. And, by doing so, they've wound up with their best record in nearly a decade.

1 Julianna
2 Freedom Fighter
3 Hysteria
4 Again and Again
5 Runaway Train
6 Wishing Well
7 Jet
8 Secret Mission
9 Gary Indiana Blues
10 Riviera
11 Universal Mom


Lyrics: Riviera

Just a little bit gun-shy, with a criminal mind
She came in like an animal and left like an innocent child
Now I'm stranded on empty, across nation lines
Clear night like a rosary against a dashboard light
Driving to you, Riviera
How long can you run?
Now the moon and the pavement are like noon daylight
Smokestacks and the gambling signs along the black horizon line
I once had a sister like you, lost on the other side
You run because you have to, from the firing lines
Shot into you Riviera, how long can you run?
Ain't it strange how the ones you steal, they keep you alive
How she could make you feel like you never been high?
I can't remember what was real - like a killer in denial
Careful to conceal every last line leading to you, Riviera
I deliver to you- the Riviera! How long can you run?