Release Date: 04.07.98
Record label: hybrid / sire
Melting Pot Magic
by: michael karpinski
The Boston-based bongo-pop trio Guster has made their name the old-fashioned way: they've toured for it, tirelessly, from their inception in 1992 straight through to the present. (Just for the record, they also made their name by changing it - from its original, more economical incarnation, "Gus.") Like their Frequent Driver Miles brethren Barenaked Ladies and Dave Matthews Band, Guster has grown gradually - and organically - from the grassroots, their reputation as a live-wire live act disseminated to the masses with airport-Hare Krishna, flower-child fervor by their H.O.R.D.E. of rabid, Internet-savvy fans (for the record: "Reps").
Still, unless you count yourself a chronic East Coast club-goer, odds are you've never heard of Guster, let alone had the chance to sample their music. For those in this boat, the succeeding recipe for Guster gumbo (hold the okra) comes courtesy of Martha Stewart's newest how-to: Melting Pot Magic: All-Inclusive Cooking Made EZ -
1. In crock pot, combine finely chopped Counting Crows and stripped-to-the-gills Phish (Blowfish acceptable, but not recommended) with hearty stock of beef-seasoned Blues Traveler 2. Sweeten with squeeze of Lemonheads and pinch of Sugar ("Believe What You're Saying") 3. Add dash of Dishwalla ("Counting Blue Cars") 4. Sprinkle discriminatingly with crushed Vic Chesnutt(s) 5. Simmer and serve with chilled Gin Blossoms-and-Tonic ("If You Could Only See")
All snarkiness aside, Goldfly, Guster's second recorded effort, is perfectly pleasant pop. The songs are sturdy; the hooks are happenin'; and the harmonies are, unquestionably, harmonious. Credit eccentrically eclectic producer/keyboardist Steve Lindsey (the man's worked with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Joni Mitchell; Ray Charles to the Chipmunks) for punching up Guster's traditionally stripped, They Might Be Giants-style jest-fests. Kudos also to primary lyricist Ryan Miller for his willingness to mine some decidedly deeper and darker shafts than he has in the past - repeatedly seeking sanctuary and escape in isolation, selfishness, and suicide. Goldfly is no half-naked, frat-haze frolic in the river Mystic. Its heart is dark. Its bongwater undertow: undeniable.
Equally undeniable, unfortunately, is the overwhelming sense of "been there/heard that" that haunts these 10+ songs like the Ghost of Alt-Pop Past. "Medicine" cribs shamelessly from Crowded House's "World Where You Live," "Grin" sounds like Neil Finn sitting in with Rusted Root, "Bury Me" exhumes Del Amitri's "Roll To Me," and "X-Ray Eyes" finds itself simultaneously blunted and blinded by its pocketful-of-Kryptonite, kissing cousin resemblance to Ben Folds Five's "Brick."
Bear in mind: it often takes time for "live" acts to successfully translate their on-stage antics and alchemy to the comparatively moribund medium of magnetic tape. Some never do (on disc, Phish flounder and the Grateful Dead often sound embalmed). But Guster are young yet. Time is on their side.
On the defiant suicide sonata "Rocketship," Miller insists:
"[I] cannot stand to be one of many I'm not what they are "
That's fine, Ryan. Now prove it. The old-fashioned way.