In 2004, Mock Orange released one of the most under-rated guitar albums of the young decade, Mind is Not Brain. From start to finish, that album is a masterwork of inventive melody and instrumentation. It’s really worth your time. After that, I didn’t hear anything from Mock Orange and assumed they’d pulled a Hum and gone off the map (if you wanna know about Hum, check out You’d Prefer an Astronaut).
So imagine my surprise when I was rolling through Amoeba Music one day and found Captain Love, a new album from Mock Orange. You’re probably imagining it about right. Now imagine me naked. Just kidding, don’t do that. Too late? Oh well. You probably need a moment to go vomit and brush your teeth, yeah?
Needless to say (but said anyway, apparently), I snatched up Captain Love, visions of an apt follow-up to Mind is Not Brain dancing in my head. So I have to ask you, dear 5 to 9 readers, what the fuck is this album? I give Mock Orange props for trying to expand their sound on every album, but everything on Captain Love sounds so forced, needlessly long, and… well, bad. Ryan Grisham’s vocals sound badly synthesized and the guitars (the precious guitars!) are there but they don’t really do anything. I’ve been through this album a thousand times now and nothing really grabs me about it. Except, you know, that I don’t like it. Perhaps my expectations were set too high by the thrill of finding new music from Mock Orange at all.
Or maybe this album really sucks. I dunno. There was a unifying energy to Mind is Not Brain that made it undeniable; you had to sit and listen to that album and you’d be crazy (or not much of a guitar guy) not to like it. Most of the songs on Captain Love feel like they were pasted together, each one song made of a patchwork of four or five fragments. This has the effect of making Captain Love feel like the most disappointing, disjointed mess since the new Cure album. I have nothing but love for both bands and I’ll still check out their music, but between the Cure’s 4:13 Dream and Mock Orange’s Captain Love, there are exactly zero highlights.
For Mock Orange, “Lila” starts off all right, but squanders its potential in the chorus. “Supergang” is actually okay, but it only makes me want to turn right back to Mind is Not Brain, the pinnacle of this band’s career so far.
The thing is, the guys in Mock Orange are talented musicians. They can definitely play, unlike a lot of truly shitty bands out there. How can a band this good make an album this bad? Perhaps it’s a matter of balance. Not to turn this into a plug for my own half-formed band (Sputnik II), but my drummer Tim and I balance each other out – I want to write loud, abrasive, confrontationally obnoxious songs and he likes to write melodies (I’m not against melody on principle or anything, it’s just how I write songs. I like them with some snark). So we can balance each other out and craft songs that have my middle-finger-up swagger and his Beatlesesque pop – it’s a democratic process which yields the best results (hopefully!) for each song. We’re able to rein each other in when one of us is getting carried away; maybe that’s what’s missing from Mock Orange. Maybe one guy is just doing whatever the fuck comes into his mind and the others are allowing him to do it. Maybe this shambolic vision congealed for a brief moment and spat out Mind is Not Brain but has since dissolved even more into the mushy mess that is Captain Love. If so, Mock Orange is in serious needs of some checks and balances.