Secondhand Serenade - Awake
Release Date: 2/6/07
Record Label: Glassnote/Warner Records
Let's be honest - there are tons of us that are lamenting the transition of Dashboard Confessional from solo acoustic act to full-band MTV pop fodder. There is just something particularly natural and disarming about a man who is willing to go up on stage (or into the studio) with little more than a six-string and a set of pipes (broken heart and good looks strongly preferred). For this reason, it is understandable that Dashboard lost quite a bit of listener resonance with its application of glossy sheen. As such, plenty of suitors have come to stake their claims as heir to the neo-emo throne. Ronnie Day is a case that immediately enters the mind, but he was still a little too slick and a great deal less than convincing in his purported emotional battles. It is here that John Vesely, aka Secondhand Serenade, aims to carve out his corner of the market, and on many levels, Awake is a perfect reflection and realization of that goal with his striking Dashboard imitation.
For his sound, Secondhand Serenade strips away almost all of the fluff. The premise is kept simple enough, with subtle strums of the acoustic guitar tucked neatly behind Vesely's emotional, borderline whiny vocals. He doesn't bother concerning himself with silly little things like, say, percussion, which is both refreshing and frustrating at the same time. It is bold in that it shows Vesely's belief in the strength of his songs and his abilities, but it leaves a void in some songs that are just begging for a whispering twitch of snare. Instead of drum tracks, Vesely instead relies on liberal vocal layering to create pseudo-hooks in all of his songs. The end result helps to detour the coffee-shop trajectory that Awake travels along, but it also gives a little too much gloss to an otherwise no-frills sound.
The worst thing about Secondhand Serenade is the fact that when you are describing their sound, you are not doing it for individual tracks. It's not even close to necessary. A cursory envelope more than covers the entire record's tone, which is fine if you crave uniformity and fear change. However, most of us like at least a little variety between songs. It tends to aid in a little thing we call lasting appeal, after all. No such luck with Secondhand's offerings, as they all color between the narrow set of lines Vesely draws up for himself. There are tiny amounts of variation, but still nothing remotely substantial. Tracks like "Vulnerable" make quiet stabs at hookiness, begging for radio play, but other trip over cringe-worthy lyrics and vastly overcooked song structures. Lines like "I hate this song/ because it was written for you" and "I will share the air I breathe/ I'll give you my heart on a string/ I just don't wanna miss anything" will elicit a grimace from the sappiest of pre-teen emos.
All in all, Secondhand Serenade is an act that is surely on the brink of stardom. John Vesely has a great set of pipes and is decent (in entirely unremarkable) on guitar. His bleeding heart lyrical themes are quite overwrought and excessive especially by the album's end. But in the end, everything on Awake still sounds really damn good. It is shameless cash-in on bittersweetness itself, which is obviously a budding segment - perhaps not the best sector for cred, but ripe for harvesting cash and fans. If you are looking for the next band to change the world, Secondhand Serenade is most definitely not it. But if your inner emo-teen is looking to relax or get laid, Vesely's tunes should be more than up to the task of helping you with either.
if you want to listen to good accoustic music, listen to Owen, Damien Rice, Rocky Vololato, a different style i know, but Im just saying if you actually want to listen to good accoustic music that will still get you laid (espcially Owen) and feed you inner emo-teen, listen to them and not this uninspired, unoriginal, slightly contribed. put you to sleep garbage that I have a feeling will do 100,000 easy, maybe even 350,000, I can see them getting big too, since they already kinda are.
I disagree with you on this quality of music, but I agree with everything else in the review, good job steve.
Good review, but coming from someone who heard this awhile back, you hit the nail on the head when you said, "However, most of us like at least a little variety between songs. It tends to aid in a little thing we call lasting appeal, after all." I liked Awake at first but it got old fast.