You Don’t Know Me
What exactly is singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Adam Marsland trying to say with the accusatory, indignant-sounding title of his new solo album? That in spite of his highly publicized 232-day U.S. tour a few years back, some of us still might not have heard of him — but that’s about to change? That the listeners familiar with his work in the L.A. power pop outfit Cockeyed Ghost might think they know him but really don’t? Or is it directed instead at some nameless love interest, the one in the title track with the “dismissive scoff?”
A bit of all three, you could say. You Don’t Know Me is a confident and well-crafted release that offers a fair number of reasons why listeners old and new — and among them any disdainful love interests — might want to take note. Tracks like “Love x 10 (How Dare You),” “Other Than Me” and “What the Hell” have superficially appealing choruses and a good sense of the tension and release that lend a pop song its fullness over its relatively short run. Marsland’s arrangements can be dense and grandiose, as on “You Don’t Know Me,” which boasts a hefty complement of strings and backing vocals (“Angel of the Morning” diva Evie Sands guests here and on much of the album as a co-lead vocalist) in addition to synth, piano, trumpet and the standard rock lineup; or, like the fragile lap steel lament “Stranger on the Street,” they can be artistically economized and pared down to the essentials. Nor are they bound to any particular genre. Marsland likes to let his fancies take flight.
For all these positive attributes, however, Marsland’s first solo studio disc since disbanding Cockeyed Ghost tends to steer a safe, unexciting course in the middle of the road. At times, the various styles he tries to assimilate into his music are more like hollow stage props, and this burdens a handful of songs with an amateur quality. On “Love x 10 (How Dare You),” to give one example, Sands actually sings “love” ten times after each chorus like someone unable to think of anything cleverer. (And lest someone rebuke me for missing the metaphorical point here, I should note that as far as flair and subtlety go, this has as much as a high school talent show entry.) The piano-driven tune “What the Hell” suddenly leaps out of its dull skin for every chorus, but it’s too reminiscent of Ben Folds to be of much interest. “I Can’t Do This Anymore,” a countrified confessional ballad, doesn’t quite find the requisite sincerity.
Marsland’s solo career got off to a promising start with the live disc recorded during the last night of his Odyssean tour. His sophomore effort builds on some of the songwriting strengths of its predecessor; yet it also seems tainted by a kind of artificiality, and therefore it might be a while longer before it seems silly of Marsland to insist we don’t know who he is.