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JON MULLANE – Shift

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Jon Mullane may be familiar to North American listeners since this album’s opening track, ‘Make You Move’, was used on NBC’s trailers for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Released two years later (talk about not cashing in on potential advertising), this album’s biggest interest lies in the fact that Mullane’s co-writer Creighton Doane – one time drummer with the mighty Canadian rock outfit Harem Scarem – is also in the producer’s chair and the drum stool…and what’s more, he’s bought Harem Scarem’s Pete Lesperance along to play guitar.

On Harem Scarem’s early albums, Pete Lesperance proved to be a decent guitarist (their first three albums are well worth checking out if you like melodic rock and haven’t already done so – their third, ‘Voice of Reason’ is particularly underrated by the melodic rock community). Then, about the time of Harem Scarem’s fifth album ‘Big Bang Theory’, Lesperance traded in his best styles for a more “modern” approach…and sadly, on Mullane’s ‘Shift’, he seems to favour a similar style – a slightly distorted rhythmic choppiness replaces his classic, medium range fretboard gymnastics. And so, the potential excitement surrounding Lesperance’s contribution to this disc, for me, had all but vanished by the end of the second track.

With that, it’s down to Jon Mullane – whom, we shouldn’t forget is running the show here – and his songs to stand on their own. Overall, there are only flashes of greatness among a quagmire of dullness, I’m afraid. It suffers from the complaint that its songs are essentially 80s rockers, but they’ve been dressed up to appear more cool and alternative. I never understood that emperor’s new clothes thing and Jon Mullane is no exception.

‘Make You Move’ plods along predictably; a fuzzy edge to the guitars and a slightly gravelly approach to some of the vocals attempt to give the impression that the track is more modern, but at the heart lies something that is unashamedly 80s. Handclaps and woo-woo’s kick start ‘Got It Goin’ On’, which typifies driving music for those who never quite made it out of the 80s. Having half of Harem Scarem on hand really should have helped pick this up a gear, but as mentioned, Lesperance’s guitar tone has no shine and once you factor in Creighton Doane’s drum sound being quite weak (it appears to have been given some electronic oomph elsewhere on the album), it doesn’t fire up the listener in the way it really could have.

A couple of tracks try far too hard to be edgy: ‘Sin City’ has distorted keyboards providing its muscle – which irritate fairly quickly (interestingly though, Lesperance’s solo is half decent, though nowhere near as good as he’s capable of); ‘Missing Time’ utilises a similar mechanical, distorted sound, interspersed with a ticking effect to highlight the little meaning behind the song (like you were too stupid to get it…) There are occasional appearances of some eighties synth pop keyboards which sound like novelty doorbells, but generally, there’s nothing here to keep you coming back for more.

There are a couple of decent numbers, but those only really pull the album up to a middling standard, given the low batting average here. ‘The One That Got Away’ is a decent ballad, which, with a bigger set of boots could have fit snugly on a latter day Vertical Horizon disc, or maybe that overlooked sole album by Neve. With a bit of luck, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a montage scene in a hit US teen drama; ‘You Get What You Get’ provides some one-two marching on the spot punchiness and momentarily gives the impression that the album is about to pick up, while the gentle rock of ‘Change Your Life’ shows promise, despite its by numbers approach; the piano flourishes help lift it a little farther, but a weak chorus lets the side down.

To be honest, unless you’re a Harem Scarem completist, or else wondered what that music was on the Olympics trailer (although, since this album was delivered some two years after the event, it’s likely you’ve forgotten about it), you could probably live without this album.

July 2010

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