Picks and Pans Review: Friction, Baby
Even the million or so fans who purchased Better Than Ezra's 1995 sophomore effort Deluxe probably had a tough time distinguishing the upstart Louisiana threesome from other rising homegrown boy bands. This time, trying hard to set themselves apart, the guys beef up their arrangements with generally underused instruments like the organ and the mandolin, and they avoid the sort of caress-the-verses-and-bludgeon-the-chorus theatrics that overpopulate peer albums. These are good moves, but the band otherwise devotedly follows post-grunge fashion. Kevin Griffin's guitar snaps, crackles and pops with brute force on "Long Lost" and "Desperately Wanting," as do his pleading vocals, making for some cathartic and exhilarating noise. But you can find plenty of that sort of heavy-handed anguish on Live's 1994 Throwing Copper CD. And the more delicate strains of the song "WWOZ" recall the lonesome-loser blues of bands like Gin Blossoms and Soul Asylum.
Better Than Ezra push some of their tunes against the alternative-rock grain. "Still Life with Cooley" lets loose with a barrage of knee-slapping, down-on-the-farm funk, and the instrumental "at CH DEGAULLE, etc." rocks and rolls with a swinging big-band beat. But alas, these are merely fleeting triumphs because a little friction goes only so far, baby. (Swell/Elektra)