In Brief: Flawed, and occasionally immature for band with such poetic aspirations, but lots of fun. Sometimes a glossy major label makeover is exactly what a band needs.
The two sisters who front the band Meg & Dia make a type of music that I have affectionately dubbed “brat rock”. It’s a pretty easy style for a young band to come up in today’s musical climate – take a penchant for poppy melodies you can’t get out of your head, mix it with the younger generation’s best guess at what “punk rock” sounds like (a la Avril Lavigne), throw in some over-the-top musical flourishes just to add to the obnoxious hook value, and you’ve got a recipe for some solid hits. If this sounds like a musical style you’d expect to put the band all over the radio waves, and consequently you’re surprised to have never heard of them, then you should probably be aware of the albatross around their necks that probably causes true rock star status to elude them. Put quite simply, the girls have what I like to call “Alanis Morissette disease”. They pack so many words into their songs that it’s hard to understand what they’re getting at some of the time, and even harder to sing along. And yet, I enjoy the “make every diary entry into a song” approach that Alanis often takes, and the fact that Meg & Dia try to write something a little more thoughtful than the typical rebellious teenybopper stuff is probably what makes me like them. It’s a double-edged sword, I guess – their lyrics save the group from mediocrity but also keep artistic greatness at bay.
Back in 2006, on the relatively lesser-known release Something Real, it might have been easier to label the band “indie rock”. At the time, they were reminiscent of Eisley with a little more rock factor and a little less in the way of rich melodies. But the girls had certainly done their homework, with songs ranging from the feisty “Indiana” to the somber, melancholy “Rebecca” referencing works of literature that they had become fond of, lending an element of storytelling to their music that suggested an intelligence lurking beneath the brash vocals and power chords. All of that said, their music was “indie rock” in the sense of who owned and distributed it, not so much in terms of the style, which was straight up pop/rock with a dual vocal attack and without a lot of production flourishes, for the most part. There were times when I enjoyed that, but it got a bit repetitive as the album wore on, so I kind of figured they could use a little more “flash” to help their songs stand out. But if you liked the simpler approach taken on that album, you’re likely to view their newest disc, Here, Here and Here, as a sellout. (I’ll admit, these ladies don’t have much of a gift for titling albums.)
Not surprisingly, Here, Here and Here is concerned with the here and now, with the struggles of young folks trying to figure out what love is, looking at the vast majority of examples they’ve been shown, and figuring most of it’s a load of crap. That sort of cynicism would be tiring if it weren’t sometimes described with keen observational skill, with lyrics that at times are too descriptive for comfort, but which say a lot about the unspoken expectations and petty selfish manipulations that happen in relationships. This thing has breakup songs, but it’s not a breakup album per se – it’s more of an exploration of people’s bad attitudes. Those who like to analyze lyrics will probably find a hackneyed line for every clever one, since the mostly strict adherence to pop song structure means there’s often more being crammed in there than the group has room to adequately explain, which means a few songs come across as little more than streams of snarky non-sequiturs. Those who don’t analyze lyrics all that much will find an album packed with wall-to-wall hooks (producer Howard Benson is known for assisting groups like P.O.D., Mae, and Relient K through similar transitions over the years), plentiful guitar solos, and amusing riffs on musical genres outside of the band’s usual “box”. Then they’ll get lost trying to follow the chorus of the song that got them hooked. It’s a cruel twist of fate.
But despite any reservations that I might have about the lyrics, I can’t complain about the music, despite the blatant mainstreaming of the band’s sound. It’s just too much fun for me to take issue with it. On a musical level, nearly every song stands out, which keeps it all from blurring together the way Something Real started to near the end, and that’s an accomplishment given that Here, Here and Here runs two songs longer, for a grand total of 13. There’s a track or two that I don’t really connect with, but each one feels like it came from a good seed of an idea, like there’s nothing thrown on to the album just for filler’s sake. In the end, that’s what keeps me from grinning ear to ear when I listen to this thing, even if I have to cringe at the occasional botched lyric. It’s all good. They’re young, and they’ve got plenty of time to work out the kinks in their songwriting – which could result in some formidable albums down the line if they play their cards right.
1. Going Away
“Buoyant” is the best word I can come up with to describe the opening track – they drop Dia’s voice in right away, and before you know it, there’s a rhythm so bouncy that it should be outlawed, and a guitar that hits on the upbeat, as if the song were some sort of ska-pop refugee. This’ll be the first of many moments where you’ll cry foul if you like your music more gritty than poppy – and if that doesn’t get you, the cheesy fake horns during the chorus will. For what it’s worth, the girls have cooked up a breezy and moderately enjoyable song about escapism, even if it’s hard to tell what exactly they’re so restless to escape from, other than general boredom and the responsibility inherent in growing up. Truth be told, the lyrics fly by so fast in this one that I feel like the meaning gets lost in the shuffle. Every time I want to start singing that big zippy hook, “I’m going away! I’m going away! I’m somethingsomethingsomething, I’m somethingaboutreligionsomethingelse…” and you can see why that doesn’t work too well. It’s one of several examples where the need to over-describe things hurts the replayability of the song, but all the same, there are worse ways to start off an album.
2. Hug Me
Now this track oughta be a hit, if there’s anything justice in the world. It’s got all of the attitude and hook value to make it work, and also a bit of cutting commentary for those who want to look a little deeper beneath the slicing guitars and pounding pianos. Dia’s words are a little more raunchy than her usual fare here, describing a casually sexual encounter with a guy who sounds like he either doesn’t care all that much, or cares too much. Either way, the concept of love at first sight has a stake rammed through its heart here, as she tosses out some of her best snarky, rapid-fire poetry by describing the guy as a virgin (“Your zipper’s all but cherry”) and yet a bit of a perv (“Your eyes are dusty dirt porn magazines”), and realizing that it’s quite possible to do all of the special hugging in the world and not feel a real connection with a person. “Hug me ’til you drug me, honesy, hug me”, goes the ingenious tagline that leads into the chorus. Despite any platitudes her upbringing taught her, despite what boys might beg and plead to get her in the sack, she can only admit, “I was brainwashed to be honest”, which presumably leads her to shut down the short-lived relationship. Lead guitarist Carlo Gimenez brings in a massive guitar solo to seal the deal just before the chorus comes back in for a final victory lap. The whole band is amazingly tight here. And this was probably not the most appropriate context in which to use the word “tight”.
3. What If
This is one of the few times when a song can remind me of the bratty, extremely pop-inflected version of “punk” that Avril Lavigne peddles, and not make me retch in the process. I don’t think Meg & Dia make any pretense about being a pop band, and I say if you’re gonna tell off a loser ex-boyfriend, might as well do it with an earworm of a melody that he won’t be able to get out of his head when he hears it! That’s exactly what this song does, chugging the power chords like Gatorade at a sporting event as Dia tosses out retorts like “I am not your shadow” and paints him as a sniveling wuss: “Finally I see past my front hands, not a coward’s p!ss-stained pants.” OK, so maybe that was a bit harsh, but the genius of the song was that the whole thing’s a backhanded compliment, as she muses “What if your counting on my failure made me live?” In other words, what if his complete lack of courage and motivation lit a fire under her butt to not be that way? I always enjoy breakup songs the most when I can tell that the person learned something from the experience. It also doesn’t hurt to have the sister’s tag-teaming vocals driving the chorus – the massive “WHAT IF YOU!” that Meg interjects is the thing that seals the deal.
4. Are There Giants Too, in the Dance?
One thing that’s fun about rock bands that aren’t afraid to be poppy is that they also aren’t afraid to be danceable. I never thought I’d hear Meg & Dia attempt something like this after their previous album, since they didn’t seem cheeky enough to even think of it. But here, they get so revved up with the bongos and fake strings and and the “boom-hiss” of the drums that you’d swear you can see a disco ball rotating above the whole thing. They haven’t gone totally Abba, of course – Meg’s got plenty of gritty and slightly dissonant riffing going on, while Carlo whips out one of the album’s best guitar solos during the middle eight. The song appears to be a sarcastic set of instructions on how to act like you’re superior to other people. What exactly the “giants” and the “dance” represent is beyond me, and I’m also not clear on what the chorus’s main statement “This is about life, and life is not about death” actually means, but screw it, this song is a party on wheels and I’m totally in love with it.
5. Inside My Head
Slowing things down a tad is this track with its screaming lead guitar licks, which is designed to make you feel like someone’s stalking you. That’s probably how Dia feels about the slingy guy who she sets about telling off in this song, describing a series of mildly psychotic episodes that honestly don’t make for much of a clear narrative, but at the same time are kind of amusing. (“I could be your lover, and your mother, and your father who never really had to take you fishing or teach compassion”.) MROWR! Meg’s little vocal asides are a bit distracting in this one, adding a bit too much to a set of lyrics that has already gone overboard. But the girls’ vocal passion is clear here – you don’t mess with the Frampton sisters if you know what’s good for you.
6. Black Wedding
Here’s one that oughta get the girls in trouble with the majority of the conservative audience in their home state of Utah. With a jangly acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit, a slight bit of synthesizer magic, and an overtly malicious sense of humor, they set about describing a train wreck of a wedding, during which most of the onlookers are secretly gossiping about the bride having a bun in the oven. The girls conclude that the wedding probably happened under duress, likely to appease the sensibilities of people who assume children born out of wedlock to be devil-spawn, and note that bowing to traditional expectations hasn’t exactly curtailed the gossip and backbiting. Most vicious is the commentary that comes during the bridge: “What else is there to know when your Bible’s here? What else is there to know when your tax is shared?” That stings a bit, but the girls have said that it’s not an attack on religion, just on the decisions people make to keep up appearances. Getting married should be about something deeper than “oops, we got pregnant and her father put a gun to my head”, right? And how is it right to put on a face and speak blessings about someone publicly while tearing them down behind their backs? This commentary hits where it hurts because it needs to. And I find it devilishly funny that they whip out a guitar solo of “hair metal” proportions to top it all off. This one’s an absolute winner despite any potential controversy.
7. Bored of Your Love
What’s this – a gloppy piano ballad? Who put the syrup on my jalapenos? Oh… wait, I get it. It’s a spoof of teenybopper Disney love songs. Or something like that. It’s pretty clear from the opening verse that Dia thinks her boyfriend (played by Tom Higgenson from the band Plain White T’s) is a complete total loser, sending him packing rather indifferently with a message that she may as well have texted to the guy – “I’m bored of your love, bored of your face, bored of your random, all over the place attitude.” Tom responds with oblivious devotion, mirroring the structure of Dia’s first verse with an honestly rather pathetic declaration of his twitterpation: “I’m in love with your love,” (retch!) “in love with your face, in love with almost everything that you say”, and look, I know this is parody, but that was painful. It’s kind of funny, having the two sing a duet in which she’s telling him to get lost and she doesn’t have a clue, but Tom’s character plays it too straight in the lyrical department – they should have written something more amusingly oblivious and superficial for him to say to her. As a result, the song comes off as a bit too close to the genre it’s trying to knowingly poke fun at, which means it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album.
8. One Sail
This is the rare track that doesn’t seem to be written with a calculated hook in mind – it’s a little more like the Meg & Dia of old, which is to say that it’s melodic and introspective without necessarily getting all up in your face about it. It plays out more like typical pop rock, with a jangly acoustic guitar and some interesting lyrics about a wayward father who Dia hopes will come home and whisk her off on some adventure. I like this – it’s a twist on the usual song about deadbeat dads, and in a strange way, it makes sense that these girls would relate more to the parent who wandered around than the one who presumably stayed at home to raise them (assuming that the story isn’t totally fictional to begin with – knowing how these ladies write songs, I can’t really assume much of anything). They look forward to his return with morbid glee (“I wait for him like vultures wait for bodies”), with the anticipation getting so great that it even kicks the song into a key change for the final chorus. That’s a good move. It brings the full punch of the hook in later, instead of hitting you in the face all at once.
9. The Last Great Star in Hollywood
Well, now we’re back to hitting you in the face right away – which I’ll admit is generally an effective approach for this album. I can tell that this song’s going to annoy some people with its “British girl rap” verses set to a robotic club beat – I have absolutely no idea why they decided to go with the faux-sophisticated vocal affectation here, but I find it sort of amusing, in a “Let’s goof on Lily Allen” sort of way. Much like “Are There Giants Too, in the Dance?”, this one’s all about merging dance-pop with jarring rock riffs, and while this one comes out much closer to the “pop” side of the equation and goes for too-obvious targets in its attempts to mock superficial celebutante culture, I have to admit it’s a tough musical concoction to resist.
10. Agree to Disagree
“One, two, three, ALRIGHT!!!” And now we go from dance-pop to… rockabilly? Apparently, having a jangly, syncopated rhythm is close enough to sounding “country” for these ladies, because they throw in a harmonica just to make sure we get the gag. It’s another cartoonish take on a genre that they should probably have no business messing around with, but I find these sort of musical send-ups amusing, so I can roll with it. Too bad I can’t make much of the lyrics, which seem to dodge just as soon as I expect them to make an actual point that builds off of the previous one: “Your house, the coffee tastes like dirt/Not because I’m hurt, that’s just what it tastes like./Dirt roads, remind me of my skin/Not because I’m wasting away with the gravel you grounded, that’s what it feels like.” Say WHAT now? I get the feeling that all of this is Dia’s obtuse way of saying she wants to put a relationship to an end with no hard feelings, but man, she sure is taking the circuitous route.
11. Fighting for Nothing
This song is deceptive – it takes on a ballad-like structure with its gentle guitar intro and sparkly keyboards, but we should all know at this point that these girls settle down about as easily as a second grader with ADHD, so we’re gonna get snarly guitars and punchy drums to punctuate the chorus, and a total mouthful of snarky observations from both of the girls. They go so far as to interrupt one another here, which is actually mildly annoying – one line of Meg’s verse overlaps one line of Dia’s each time, which only has the effect of obscuring both. (See Eisley’s “Brightly Wound” for a much better take on two sisters singing completely different lyrics at the same time and both actually being comprehensible.) The chorus continues to jampack words to the point where the song’s message of learning to pick your battles is almost completely lost: “You’ve got to weigh yourwarsmakesureyou’renotfightingfornothing.” Dia, I’m sure you skipped about three syllables there in your rush to get that all in. I’m almost willing to forgive this song’s missteps by the time the slamming rebuttal of a bridge comes in – Dia’s vocals are at their vicious best here. Still, it’s a flawed song that has a lot of style and attitude, but sabotages its own need to get a pet peeve off its chest.
12. Kiss You Goodnight
Here, the ladies attempt a piano ballad in 6/8 time, the kind of thing that could easily be played during a slow dance, which is pretty sweet until Dia gets to the second verse and makes dubious observations like “You open your mouth like an asthma attack” and, in her best instance of T.M.I., “Your vomit, it forms a gold chain your neck”. Ewww. A love song, this is not. Not like this surprises me at all, but it sort of ruins the mood and the honestly lovely melody that the girls came up with. Jut listen to the absolutely gorgeous breakdown that Dia pulls off at the end of the bridge, and again following the final chorus. I feel like this deserved not to be wasted on a guy who was probably too drunk or stoned to give a crap. Then again, those are the kinds of aimless characters who populate this band’s songs. Maybe it’s somebody who the girls want to offer a little direction – “If all that you take from this is courage, then I have no regrets.” It’s intriguing, if not quite a home run.
13. Here, Here and Here
It’s probably best not to reference Mozart if you’re going to do it in a middling, mid-tempo pop song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s who Meg & Dia have chosen as their muse for this lackluster title track, which finds them playing the pensive artists and citing the “heart, mind and ears” as the reasons they make music. “Mozart, he said there’s nothing to composing”, Meg wails in the background as this half-baked song hits a musical climax that it hasn’t quite earned. I know there are strings competing with the wall of guitars and drums, but the melody’s honestly a bit boring, and with only one verse and a chorus, I feel like they didn’t really try here. This is what they named the album after, and saw fit to name it with? Man. If not for laggers like this, they could have potentially been within reach of a five-star album – not a particularly deep one, to be honest, but a thoroughly memorable and enjoyable one.
Still, for a transition to a major label, the kind of thing that often goes horrendously awry for bands who build up a solid amount of buzz in the indie world, this is a pretty good entry. It shows a young band still in need of fixing some flaws, but also one that is malleable, willing to try new things, and who is able to have fun trying on hats without losing their distinct sense of personality, however awkward it may sometimes be. Meg & Dia, and the boys they carry around with them under the band’s moniker, have a lot of room to grow. They’ve got some solid chops when they apply themselves, which is most of the time. If they can figure out how to say what they want in a pointed manner, as they do on their best songs, and also figure out when to shut the hell up and stop rambling about seemingly unrelated things, I’m sure they could come up with a formidable album someday. For now, at least what’s they’ve got is much more here than there.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Going Away $.50
Hug Me $2
What If $1.50
Are There Giants Too, in the Dance? $2
Inside My Head $1
Black Wedding $2
Bored of Your Love $.50
One Sail $1
The Last Great Star in Hollywood $1.50
Agree to Disagree $1.50
Fighting for Nothing $.50
Kiss You Goodnight $1
Here, Here and Here $.50
Dia Frampton: Lead vocals, percussion, keyboards
Meg Frampton: Backing vocals, guitar
Carlo Gimenez: Lead guitar
Nicholas Price: Drums
Jonathan Snyder: Bass
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
Originally published on Epinions.com.