The potential pitfalls of the double-album are well enumerated throughout music history. Sometimes you get The Wall or, if you’re very lucky, London Calling. Other times, you get the last Beyonce album or – dog help you – Stadium Arcadium. So it’s treacherous territory, even for bands as talented as The Clash (I know some of you are thinking that Sandanista was their big stinker double album, but you’re wrong – it’s their big stinker triple album; with the help of Winamp or a similar player, you can whittle it down to the length of London Calling and make it a pretty good listen).
“So,” you might be thinking, “why the hell would a pleasantly mediocre band like The Soundtrack of Our Lives want to foist 90 minutes of music on us in this here 21st century? Haven’t they heard I Am Sasha Fierce?”
Those are good questions, dear reader. From the reviews I’ve read of TSOOL’s Communion, the double-album in question, I start to get the feeling that the reviewers, daunted by the sheer size of the task, have scanned the tracks once or twice before muttering a tired “Yeah, it’s pretty good,” and scampering off to digest some eight-song indie EP or to circle jerk about Wavves some more.
But not I. I’m the crazy fuck who actually listened, track by track, to Chris Cornell’s Scream album. If I could do that, I can certainly wade into the deep waters of Communion. And I did. And they’re not, as I suspected, that deep.
The central question here is, “Can an album suck even if none of the songs really suck?” Of course it can. This leads us to Chorpenning’s Theory of Tolerable Mediocrity. I submit to you, dear reader(s?), that a certain amount of mediocrity is tolerable in music (it’s never “good” because that would make it something other than mediocre). That is, there is truly good music (Neko Case) and there is truly terrible music (My Chemical Romance) and in between, there are myriad degrees of quality and unquality. For example, if Oasis or Coldplay come on the radio, I don’t get pissed about it. Those are two distinctly mediocre bands, not good enough for my praise, not bad enough for my scorn. (Chris Martin is, however, worth singling out because he’s such a fucking goon) Don’t care what they’re all about. On the other hand, if My Chemical Romance comes on the radio, I fly into a rage. This is because My Chemical Romance is one of the worst bands ever; they make the listener a worse person for having heard them. If I could fight the entire band, I would. Seriously, fuck My Chemical Romance. Where was I? Oh yeah – the point is, there’s mediocre stuff that I don’t much care about and then there’s all the other stuff.
You might’ve guessed by now that I think The Soundtrack of Our Lives is a mediocre band. You’re partly right: sometimes, they creep up into “Pleasant Enough” or even “Pretty Okay.” But that doesn’t excuse the bloated mess that is Communion. Part of what makes something mediocre tolerable is brevity.
TSOOL is at their most Oasisy on the album opener “Babel On,” which even features shouts of “Come on!” on the chorus, a trope that Oasis is contractually obligated to use at least once per album. Oh, and “Babel On” is nearly six and a half minutes long. So they start out their bloated mess of an album with a bloated mess of a song, but it lets you know what you’re in for. If you’re rocking out to “Babel On”, you’ll probably enjoy the rest of Communion. But, as I did on the Obits record, I found myself checking my watch half way through the first disc – and I don’t own a watch.
There’s a sense that TSOOL is trying to go for something Big and Meaningful on Communion, but there’s not really anything in the lyrics that articulates it. It strikes me more that they had 24 songs and didn’t feel like cutting any of them out. As I alluded to earlier, none of the songs on Communion are terrible, but none of them really reach out and grab you either. The first track I even nodded my head to was “Flipside,” the Kinks-aping song three tunes deep on the second disc. That’s the song that climbs up to “Pleasant Enough” but it’s the 15th of 24 songs, and that’s too long to wait for something I can get on the first song of Vetiver’s Tight Knit. Oh, and all the songs that follow that first song.
All in all, Communion is bloated ogre of a mediocre record (it’s mediogre, which would be a pretty awesome name for a band) from a band that did much better for itself on its 2005 release Origin, Vol 1. If you’re a diehard Soundtrack of Our Lives fan, I guess you’ll be fine with Communion, but you know what I’ve never seen? A diehard Soundtrack of our Lives fan.