Audiophilia, Thoughts

I Can’t Quit You: Our Lady Peace

The subhead for the “I Can’t Quit You” page says “a list of musical missteps, faded devotion, & futile attempts at audiophile cred.” While I’ve already blogged about one CD that was the turning point in my love for a band, I don’t think any other CD on this list marks such a drop-off of devotion like the one I’ve picked today: Gravity by Our Lady Peace.

Through the 90’s, Our Lady Peace was a band I would have sworn that I’d love forever. From Naveed to Spiritual Machines, OLP proved to me that they were a band that cared not just about the music they were making but how it spoke to their fans. Before our current glut of books on how reality TV & the internet make humankind shallower than usual, the band members were vocal about their own issues with the media. In one interview for MuchMusic, Mike Turner & Raine Maida reflected that any person who actively thought about the world around them knew for themselves how insulting TV could be to an individual’s intelligence. (@ the 3:35 mark)

But, when I listen to Gravity now, I think maybe it’s wrong to expect too much from those who are in the business of performing and entertaining for an audience. No matter how idealistic a singer or an actor may seem, at the end of the day, they’re just trying to get paid like the rest of us. I’m not going to sit here & cry sell-out on the band, because I agree with the punk rock adage that if you sell even one t-shirt, you’ve sold out. But in 2002, when OLP’s Gravity came out, it had been 2 years since their last album, the high-concept Spritual Machines. Those of us devoted fans were eager to see what they would do next.  Instead of a unique and nuanced gem, what we got was a leaden lump of clay.

The first time I heard the song “Somewhere Out There” on the radio, I was simply confused. This was the new song? Mr. Maida, who has a distinct singing voice, sounded like he had a cold. The lyrics and the guitars were plain &, well, kind of obvious. “Somewhere Out There” sounded like any generic rock song, not the curious, multi-layered sound that OLP was known for. I doubted that I had heard the song correctly until I bought the CD itself. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed.

Gravity had taken all the change and maturity that the previous CDs Happiness. . . and Spiritual Machines had developed & stuffed it in a dark corner to get into bed with American rock radio. While the Canadian band had enjoyed relative success in the States, they hadn’t broken through into the mainstream. While I can appreciate now that OLP wanting to try a different producer & a different direction, there are better people they could have chosen than Bob Rock, aka Mr. Big, Dumb and Commercial himself. Have you seen “Some Kind of Monster”? Have you seen the brilliant scene where Mr. Rock encourages James Hetfield to think about the song the band is struggling to write? Hetfield sings the motley lyrics & Rock’s scintillating, insightful question is “What is this song about?” “Some kind of monster?” Hetfield says doubtfully. Rock nods sagely & another forgettable metal track is born.

On top of Gravity’s new “hard yet accessible” over-produced sound, the lyrics of the songs are equally uninspired. The tracks “All For You” and “Innocent” in particular seemed cribbed straight from a high school-era journal. That’s sounds harsh, but the writing is actually a huge step backward for a band who’ve come as far as OLP have. I think it’s important to realize the difference between falling in love with a new band while in high school and then seeing the same band years later retread ground they’ve already explored.  The lines “Jack Kerouac on the road and in my head/I need relevance, intelligence/A new tattoo, a lot more sex” aren’t as meaningful to a long-time fan in 2002 as the words “Maybe you should sleep/Maybe you just need a friend as clumsy as you’ve been/There’s no one laughing” were for that same person in 1996.  And “Innocent” isn’t just as good or better than the previous hit “Life.”

The topic of high school brings me to my last disappointment with Gravity. While I do remember all the regard I had for the band & the day it stopped, a few years went by before I realized why.  I had outgrown Our Lady Peace’s music. Clumsy and Happiness. . . had gotten me through high school so maybe it’s no surprise that I lost interest soon after when I started considering life outside cliques and homework. Also somewhere along the line, I had started hearing about this other Canadian singer named Matt Good & when his CD Beautiful Midnight was finally released in the States in 2001, I had attention for little else. So, with some measure of joy, I’m sending Gravity on its way out of my life, but not without a twinge of regret for the end of love that it marks.

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3 thoughts on “I Can’t Quit You: Our Lady Peace”

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. Well done. I’m curious to know if you completely lost faith in OLP after Gravity. Have you checked up on them casually throughout the years? Or did you turn off the lights completely?

    While some bands seem to have it all figured out from the get go, I think it’s important to analyze the journey. In OLP’s case, they’ve never really settled on a sound and milked it for money and fame. In fact, their choices with respect to their sound following commercial successes would indicate that if anything, they’re turned off by it.

    I believe they lost themselves after Gravity, recording some 45 tracks for the follow-up, Healthy In Paranoid Times. Struggling with their sound and perhaps even trying to fit in with what was going on in music at the time, they nearly split. Looking back, the Bob Rock era was really a drought from a creative standpoint. Nevertheless, I think an essential experience in helping them figure out what they wanted out of the whole deal.

    They moved on to record their seventh album, Burn Burn in 2009. I don’t think this was the return to form people were expecting with Rock out of the fold. However, I think it was the right move in order to get back to a good place, so to speak.

    Their upcoming record, Curve, is due out April 3rd. I really think it will be a surprise to people expecting them to coast through the rest of their careers. I don’t think they ever intended to mail it in with boring modern rock songs. I do however agree that after Spiritual Machines, they succumbed to the pressure of their label, trying to sell the right songs to the masses. A misstep for sure, but also a necessary evil, as it helped them move away from it all. If anything, I think Curve is worth a chance because they have an interesting career arc.

    I don’t think that idealism you speak of ever died. I think it’s a situational thing, where circumstances dictate the choices you make. Perhaps their design was a bit superficial for a time, but it seems like things have taken a big turn again. We’ll see.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughtful response. After the last time I finished listening to Gravity in 2002, I did pretty much stop following them. I did keep OLP on my periphery as they continued to release CDs & my heart did skip a little bit when I saw Raine’s name co-credited with his wife’s on Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin (which I enjoyed very much as a guilty pleasure). But, I didn’t make an effort to see what else they were doing. As I re-listened to Gravity for the I Can’t Quit You series of blog posts, I did discover in my prep work they had a new album coming out & felt intrigued again. I think I will be checking out the new album & at least seeing what I missed over the intervening years.

      But I agree that the journey a band takes is just as important to the development of their sound as anything else. From the music criticism I’ve read since writing this blog, it does sound that OLP has gone through significant maturity & I hope that the guys continue to move forward & make good music. It would be great to find new songs by them that would inspire me once again. Thank you again for filling the timeline after my post & for your own thoughts.

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