Single File - Common Struggles
Record Label: Sire/Reprise
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Creativity is a daunting task to master, which is part of what makes misunderstood art subject to greater appreciation over time. The more we learn, the more we create ourselves... the more likely we are to build insight as to what makes one thing different from another. That will subsequently lead to new conclusions on previously misinterpreted items, whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a play or a song. This doesn't necessarily mean down the road we will hail Jewel's poetry as the second coming of Emily Dickinson (she was ahead of her time!) or label Uwe Boll as a tortured artist with limited ability to create to his fullest potential (Alone in the Dark was meant to be a social metaphor!) -- it just means the level of respect for what is creative and what isn't is a fine line we should be willing to learn from.
The same logic can be applied to popular music, which has been unable to truly shake the chains that hold it down ever since the radio & label heads found out that the Young Jeezys and Flo Ridas of the world have the uncanny ability to bust lazy rhymes over remodeled, manufactured beats. Pop music has not been the same since we witnessed the sunshine choruses of the Beach Boys and the early pop-rock combination of Buddy Holly. Denver's Single File use their major-label debut (and first full-length) Common Struggles as a catapult to get their brand of sunny pop accompanied by sorrowful lyrics out there in front of all the other pop bands disguised as nothing but clowns smirking over watered-down synth-beats. Single File take more cues from the 1960's bubblegum era than most of their peers, ditching the venetian-blind shades and neon-splatter muscle tees for the very basic formula of peculiar rhythms over familiar hooks.
Single File's frontman/lyricist Sloan Anderson wants to tell you the album reflects the human condition (hence the album's title), however many of the thematic contents here revolve around struggles of another kind -- the kind of the romantic persuasion. Obviously, pop music follows the Golden Rule: all songs are either about love and/or heartbreak. Single File tattoos that on their heart-laced sleeves and doesn't even try resisting the idea that a great hook can follow a darker message (see: "Semi-Charmed Life"). Lead single "Girlfriends" contains a nifty whistling rhythm over Anderson's vocals which sound like a sparkler that's about to burst; it's right on the edge of doing something big, but never really blows the way you expect it to. The song suffers a massive coronary due to severe redundancy, but fear not: the oddly-titled yet surprisingly charming track, "Mannequin Loveseat" saves it. There's no denying this fact: the track has huge potential, showing off Anderson's self-loathing penmanship which often writes about "pretty things just out of reach."
Helping it sound all warm and fluffy like the Pillsbury doughboy is Superman himself, producer Howard Benson, who turns & tweaks all the right knobs (with Tom Lord-Alge) to ensure Single File aren't ever boring. Every song is tightly-packaged and showcases Anderson's vocals, which as I said, are ready to break but sometimes set themselves to "whiny emo" on occasion ("Airports"). Drummer Chris Depew benefits most from Benson's production, with his top-notch skills offering up a Ringo Starr sensibility, which is to say they are never overdone and keep the tunes grounded. His jazz-like flair on the cheerfully silly "Pizzagirl," the technically poppy "Miss Cherry Lipgloss" and "Blue Sky Happiness," which begins sounding far too bright (in a cheesy way) until Depew knocks back a solid foundation during the chorus.
Common Struggles never breaks out anything too fresh or mind-blowing, yet there's an unstoppable charm to it all that builds and builds throughout each song. By the time the record is ending, it's doing what every other album does the opposite of: winning you over and leaving you wanting more of what that last half contained. "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" might be wandering into "Weird Al" Yankovic territory, but son of a bitch, it's a jam. "Benson Shady Grove (Save Yourself)" has some legroom to make me want to bicycle kick with Christmas morning excitement, and it's the last song?! Holy Toledo! It's all the same shit on a different day, but doesn't recycle melodies or become infatuated with itself. Give credit to Benson (oh, and the band, too) for polishing an old shoe and wearing it their own way.
Single File isn't looking to write the top-secret, misunderstood pop classic for our decade -- creativity is a challenge in popular music. Sometimes, going right back to basics is all you need to do, even if we've heard it all before. Common Struggles is not reinventing the wheel, but the wheel's been reliable all these years... why can't we just live with that logic and be happy?
Awesome, glad to see this thing reviewed. I was in LOVE with this at first, and while I've overplayed it, I still really enjoy it. Just some fun, realy catchy pop-punk. I really love the singer's voice as well. Great review, sir.