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music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Abulum

Artist: Glen Phillips
Genre: Rock
Release Date: April 2001

Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

Toad The Wet Sprocket broke up in 1998 after their last studio record Coil got a tepid reception. Toad were like a wimpier REM but I still liked them. They had tight, catchy songs with good guitar lines. I recommend their greatest hits record P.S., a collection of very likable pop rock songs, and Fear, which had the buoyant singles All I Want, Walk On The Ocean and Is It For Me. Abulum is Toad lead singer Glen Phillips' first solo record. Abulum is even mellower than Phillips' Toad work. It has an "adult" sound that's pleasant but not so interesting.

There's little that's awful about Albulum but not much that's great either. The record has a few modest, enjoyable mid tempo rockers. Men Just Leave is good breezy country rock like Toad's Nanci. Phillips sings about guys who leave their women when they get pregnant and have "a secret treasure: the wallet pictures in their pocket of the kids they never see." With a Byrdsy guitar line, a breezy mood and an empathetic lyric about a woman with bad taste in men, Professional Victim is the most typically Toad-like song on Albulum. Drive By has easy vocals and keyboards and is my favorite song on Albulum. The weird but nice story is about a boy forced to drive while his father takes a shot at the neighbor's dog and the deal the boy makes with God to save the dog's life.

Albulum has a bunch of serious, sad songs that are pretty good. Phillips' thin, amiable voice isn't really strong enough to carry off Back On My Feet but the sad tale of a guy devastated after screwing up a relationship is still striking, starting a capella and only adding quiet, atmospheric keyboards and muffled drumming. My Own Town, about feeling like no one's left in town and having suicidal thoughts after a lover leaves, is subdued and moving. Darkest Hour is stark but focused. Phillips' good, sincere vocal reminds me of Neil Finn's better quiet songs. Train Wreck is also nice and heartfelt, though very restrained with backing that's mostly a quiet electric piano. Albulum basically fades away, finishing with mellow, downbeat songs Maya and Sleep Of The Blessed.

I only actively dislike a few songs on Albulum. Careless, which opens Albulum, sounds like Aimee Mann and Michael Penn's recent work, using a chamberlin like Jon Brion and Patrick Warren play for a circus type effect on Mann & Penn's music. The music and Phillips' vocal also have the reticent, too controlled feel of some of Penn's work as Phillips unemotionally sings about being surprised and embarrassed at not realizing how screwed up a friend was. It Takes Time, about an overwhelmed dad, is unappealingly dark and murky. Fred Meyers, about a guy living in an abandoned store, is a genial, loose rocker but Phillips' drawled vocal and the Life Is A Highway-lite boogie riff are too cutesy for me, even if the seemingly uplifting chorus is actually about troubled people getting their kicks by setting fires and slashing tires.

Albulum isn't bad. It's pleasant and easy to listen to. It's just very low key and feels pretty inconsequential. Toad The Wet Sprocket's work was usually pretty laid back too. What mostly separates Abulum from Toad's records is the lack of two or three really catchy mid tempo rock songs. Perhaps Phillips misses the rock edge of Toad writing partner and lead guitar Todd Nichols. Or maybe Phillips is prematurely old(he's 30) or was sad while making the record. Abulum was produced by Phillips and Ethan Johns, son of Who/Rolling Stones/Clapton producer Glyn Johns. Ethan's played with and/or produced people including Emmylou Harris, Chris Stills and Ryan Adams. Albulum sounds O.K. It's just not very exciting.



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