All Ears, All Eyes, All The Time
Side One Dummy
I’m loath to admit that I’m not an old-school Piebald fan. That is, I wasn’t enough of an indie dork to pick up on them back when Venetian Blinds was released. I only really discovered them with 2002’s We Are The Only Friends We Have, at which point I went out and bought their entire back catalog and fell hopelessly in love with Grace Kelly. Piebald fans will know of whence I speak. This was the band, I would contest to friends, that must have absorbed Weezer’s light-hearted emo-rock spirit just before they started to suck.
WATOFWH was loaded with the sort of awesome pop nuggets that should have made it a break-out hit and propelled the band to new heights. Critics dug it, and the existing fan base dug it too, but it never became the rock radio staple or MTV darling that songs like “Just A Simple Plan” seemed destined for. But I digress. Now they’re back with a new disc, on a new label, older and wiser than before.
In typical Piebald fashion, vocalist Travis Shettel quips, “Mid-twenties depression or a quarter-life crisis/Make the list of demands what do you want” on “Get Old Or Die Trying,” which seems to embody the album’s larger theme here: Maturing. Growing up. Growing old. Although the band still manages to maintain their trademark geekiness and tongue-in-cheek humor, the lyrics are much more serious and introspective this time around. The music reflects this maturation too, with much stronger songwriting and tighter musicianship all around, with an increased focus on slower tempos and piano ballads that will make you swear you were listening to a band that toured with Ben Folds rather than Jimmy Eat World. They’ve chilled out a lot, toned down their spazzy tendencies and expanded their repertoire with an almost Beatles-esque flair. Impressive.
For all its heartfelt honesty, for all its attention to musical detail, I miss the sloppy awkwardness of the old Piebald. Only the opening track, “The Benefits of Ice Cream,” comes close to achieving the feeling and the energy inherent in its name. Sure, there are some other great tracks on this album, like the grandiose arena-rock glamour of “All Senses Lost” and the pretty little piano ballad “Part Of Your Body Is Made Of Rock” (heh). They’re damn good, solid songs. And All Ears, All Eyes, All The Time is a damn good, solid album. But it’s missing that quirky special “something” that made its predecessors some of my favorite dork-rock of the last 10 years. Not all things get better with age, and even if a band progresses musically as they get older, I guess there’s just something special about the uncertainty and emotive force of youth that’s hard to recapture as the years melt away.