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music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Mobilize

Artist: Grant-Lee Phillips
Genre: Rock
Release Date: August 2001

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

As leader of Grant Lee Buffalo, Grant-Lee Phillips was one of the best songwriters of the 90s, writing very good, distinctive songs with vivid imagery. Phillips' confident, idiosyncratic vocals established a striking persona. Jubilee was Grant Lee Buffalo's best and most accessible record. Much of the band's previous work had been somewhat obscure, but Jubilee was upbeat, rocking and radio friendly. After Jubilee didn't have the commercial success it deserved, Phillips dissolved the band and stepped back from Jubilee's rock sound with an acoustic CD, Ladies Love Oracle. As on Ladies Love Oracle, Phillips does all the singing and plays all the instruments on Mobilize. But like Jubilee, Mobilize has developed, enjoyable songs. Mobilize doesn't have Jubilee's rock and roll heft and its songs and production sometimes are a little insubstantial but Mobilize is likably optimistic and good spirited.

Mobilize was apparently a fairly low budget production but Phillips still created a fairly full sound, with layers of instruments on most tracks. Mobilize uses programmed drums and probably loses a bit of spontaneity by going without a live drummer. But the beats, programmed by Phillips' coproducer Carmen Rizzo, usually don't sound very mechanical and are quite inventive and, especially on the more upbeat songs, vibrant. With a perky beat and lush keyboards, Spring Released is one of the catchiest songs Phillips has ever done. Phillips' energy is infectious as he enthuses about a night feeling "the blood rush" at a club, as his "little girlfriend's hanging tight." We All Get A Taste has fun keyboards and fuzzy guitar and upbeat drums. Earlier in his career, Phillips' vocals were often reserved and mannered but on Mobilize, his singing is open and optimistic, reflecting a good, almost starry eyed, mood. We All Get A Taste appreciates that life gives everyone a shot at "strange elation" and urges us to store it away. Phillips' vocals and keyboards on Humankind are warm. Phillips genuinely despairs about a heartless society, hoping to "help myself from harboring such evil." Beautiful Dreamers' synths are so bouncy and its vocals so sunny that it could be a Hall and Oates song or, at least, something by Semisonic. Phillips shows a real affection for the slightly screwed up couples(including his own) finding solace in love. With its sprightly beat Sadness Soot, about leaving the ghosts of a past relationship behind, is similar to Spring Released. It has an appealing, giddy mood that matches its command: "shake off the sadness."

Most of the songs that aren't as poppy are still very likable. A bunch of minimal, unassuming songs are very good. Lazily Drowning has a cool, relaxed feel for a tale of easy surrender. Like A Lover has the good, stark feel of Peter Case's self titled debut. Phillips is backed by just a repeated chord and a very basic beat as he simply pleads that he's never come close to feeling the love and sadness he does in his current relationship. Jubilee ends with two nice, simple songs with acoustic guitar, sweet keyboard shadings and images from nature: Sleepless Lake, a love song with Phillips offering his "throat before a hungry lioness", and April Chimes, Phillips' guarantee to a lonely friend that "you'll love again."

The only songs that don't really work are the heavier ones. See America, the kind of sweeping song Phillips has often tried in his career, doesn't really say anything new but to Phillips' credit, the vocal and music, with Phillips' acoustic and quiet keyboards, are warmer and more humble than on previous similar efforts. Love's A Mystery's story of a detective trying to crack the mystery of love is kind of silly but it's nicely moody and doesn't take itself seriously. My least favorite song on Mobilize is its most serious and least tuneful. The title track, with an ominous beat and dissonant keyboards and backing, is the record's only disturbing song. It has foolish, heavy handed analogies between the doomed U.S. effort in Vietnam and Phillips' internal struggles.

While its mood is often gleeful, Mobilize is generally not shallow because Phillips' voice has real personality and depth and his writing is detailed and distinctive. Phillips' positive songs resonate because his work has often been more troubled and reticent. Mobilize is a great opportunity to experience a thoughtful singer/songwriter in a good mood.



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