Splendid Havocs new album Pasticcio is the next step in the Traverse City bands creative journey and offers a more diverse and pop-inflected group of songs than their past folk leanings. With a title like this (the word pasticcio means potpourri or a piece that is drawn from many sources), the listener can expect to be taken on a ride that will guide them through all sorts of musical areas. But for the most part the band stays within the boundaries of soft, adult rock, with few tendencies outside those lines.
This is a very mature sound that many adults would probably latch on to, and I can easily picture turning the dial on my radio and hearing this band played on WLDR. Any song from this CD would be at home on a station being played inbetween Wilson Phillips and Celine Dion.
Although the music is somewhat diverse on this album, the vocals tend to hold it all together with Michelle Sochas very talented voice leading the way on seven of the nine songs. The harmonies are really strong on all of the tracks, but especially on the second song, The Smile. This song has a catchy melody and it is quite easy to see why radio stations like WTCM have started playing it. It has a nice Fleetwood Mac vibe going that Splendid Havoc should capitalize on more.
The production and arrangement on this album are quite strong. The band sounds tight and this is evidence of production skill since there are seven members in the band. With a number that high, it can become very easy for the record to have far too many layers on it and be cluttered. But it does not sound like thattherefore the band deserves kudos for restraint and not falling into a trap that many bands fall in.
The band is also very strong mechanically: they sound like well-trained vocalists and musicians. The problem may be that they play their instruments a little too well. There are no envelopes being pushed on this album. In other words the instruments stay in their role within the band and do not venture outside where they are supposed to be, sometimes to a fault.
These songs are all very safe. There is nothing that sets them apart, and this might actually say more about the entire adult-contemporary genre of music than it does about Splendid Havoc specifically. These songs sink too far into the background and do not demand the attention of the listener.
A great song in this genre is like a well-behaved little child; they are calm and quiet around you, but still desperately want your attention. None of these songs, except maybe The Smile and (because it is so different dynamically from the rest of the album) Its About . . . ask to be taken to the park and be pushed on the swing.
Lyrically, many of these songs are a little cliché and kind of cheesy.
Case-in-point would be the song A Little Ditty. In one of the verses to the song, it states, I went for a walk one afternoon/ I started to sing this little tune/ My feet caught a beat in 3/8 time/ and all my words just sort of rhymed. Musically, A Little Ditty is pretty chill and has a cool lounge feel to it with some nice sounding piano in the background. There is some interplay between the vocals and the guitar that has potential to be really nice as well. But the laid back, mellow feel of the music is not enhanced by the really in-your-face bubbly-pop vocal lines. It is just too much for the mellow vibe in the music. This is what would happen if you put Hillary Duff with Ella Fitzgeralds backing band. The two just dont belong together.
On a side note, no one can fault a band for being socially conscious.
God knows that we need more musicians who are concerned with what is going on in the world and want to use their art to make a difference. Splendid Havoc should be encouraged for being concerned about the victims of terrorism, but do we really need yet another 9/11 tribute song? There was a flood of them in music a couple of years ago, even to the point where it seemed like record labels were using the tragedy as a moneymaker. So it seems unnecessary to have another tribute song, called Standing on this album, three years after the horrible event actually happened. How about a tribute to the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo where over three million of them have died in a war that is still going since its beginning, over six years ago? A lot of people seem to ignore tragedies that dont happen on American soil.
There are only two songs on here that are not upbeat, feel-good tunes, so even though there is a lot of diversity in the style of music offered on this disc, they dont sound as different as you might think because they are almost all very similar in the mood of the music. Splendid Havoc is a band that is comprised of very gifted musicians. Unfortunately though, it is the creative nature of their sound that is lacking. Many bands are not out to influence music and be different, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it is possible to write pop songs and still be different, and therefore that is something to strive for, but you just dont hear that in this music.