Better Than Ezra - Paper Empire Review

Too often critics, such as myself, are quick to praise any band that shows some sign of progress or maturation in their music. And why there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, something also should be said for the bands that stay consistent, the bands that believe that they’ve found their niche and have decided to stick with it. Louisiana’s Better Than Ezra could very well be considered one of those bands. If you were to pick up a copy of the group’s 2005 greatest hits compilation, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a track that was released in 1991 and one that was put out in 2001. Sure if you listen closely you’ll be able to tell that there’s a lot that’s been going on throughout the two decades BTE has been together, but frontman Kevin Griffin has decided for the most part to hold on tight to the music that made him and his band famous in the mid ‘90s.

On Better Than Ezra’s seventh full length, Paper Empire, it goes without saying that if you’re familiar with BTE then you should be pretty familiar with what this album is going to provide. If you’re not all that familiar with the band, I’ll share; Paper Empire is a mixture of yearning ballads and jittery pop tunes anchored by Griffin’s commanding trademark vocal. It has its ups and its downs, its memorable tunes and its all too forgetful ones, it’ll be a fun album to listen to every now and then but nothing that will truly captivate you or hold your attention for extended periods of time. So goes the story of just about every BTE album ever released.

The disc starts off with the catchy tune “Absolutely Still,” and while it may fall into the category of slightly overproduced pop it’s still a joy to listen to and a pretty impressive way to kick off the album. The momentum carries into the following track, the more subdued sweeping power pop of “Turn Up The Bright Lights,” which highlights both the confidence and vocal prowess of Griffin, each of which seem to have only increased in potency through the years. It’s soon after this though that tracks begin to sound a bit stale, songs such as “The Loveless” and “Fit” are a dime a dozen and at times border on cheese. After a couple listens through Empire, it becomes obvious that some of the innovation that made 2001’s Closer such an entertaining listen, are gone and the curveballs that the band does throw at us are pretty lame ducks – examples: the embarrassing dance flavored “Nightclubbing” and the sad attempt at a catchy tune on “Hell No!”

There are more highlights to be found on Empire though, and while you won’t find anything as infectious as their claim to fame song “Good,” the track “All In” is just as fun and the hypnotic “Blacklight” is catchy in its own right. The acoustic based album closer “I Just Knew” is a style that would have better fit the heavy handed collection of ballads that gives Empire its ugliest black eye. As Griffin sings out “Something changed and I just knew” on the closing track, you realize that nothing really has changed, and sometimes that’s just the way you want it. Nostalgia may taint this review more than I normally let it, but I’m guessing that’s what BTE is aiming for in a round about way.

Some songs on Paper Empire can correctly be categorized as fluff, simple pop songs with little substance. But there are gems to be found, and if you see Kevin Griffin as an affecting a singer as I do, you’ll weed through the filler to get to the sweet stuff. Songs like “Turn Up The Bright Lights” and “All In” are good enough to warrant individual downloads if you don’t want to pony up the cash to buy such an uneven album. For those who spent many hours listening to Deluxe as a kid, and even if you went back years later and realized it wasn’t really that great of an album, Paper Empire should still probably find its way into your collection, even if only because it brings you back to a simpler time.

"Paper Empire" is on sale May 12, 2009 from Megaforce.

Tyler Barlass • Editor

Tyler is passionate about Music, Sports, Beer, Comic Books, Food, Cocktails and other seemingly unrelated things.


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