There is a thriving country music scene north of the border, and a number of the artists who are mainstays there–Paul Brandt and Amanda Wilkinson come to mind–make music that deserves far better than the reception it has received in the States. Other Canadian imports, however, have fared considerably better, even though those artists have substantially less to offer than their aforementioned countrymen. Emerson Drive is firmly in the latter category, notching three Top 10 hits in the U.S. despite releasing some of the blandest and most anonymous music of the decade.
The touching “Moments” being an aberration in a catalog of otherwise unmemorable material, the band’s fourth album, Believe, takes its music to new levels of irrelevance. Everything that was weak about the band’s three previous records is ramped up here; from a never-ending string of clichés to the constant employment of weird musical hooks that often seem ill-advised and out of place, there simply is no sufficient adjective to describe how awful this album is.
An album that attempts to recreate the success of earlier hits, opening track “That Kind of Beautiful” mimics the rhythm of 2002’s “Fall Into Me” almost to the point of mirroring it, while “Your Last” is a blatant attempt to cover the same ground as “Moments” (one that falls well short of that high mark). “Sometimes the things you love the most you forget to feel,” at the core of “Your Last” is a gripping statement, but the rest of the song fails to build on it, at times utilizing lyrics that seemingly have no relation at all to that very worthwhile message.
So lines like, “Sometimes the stars line up/Sometime the world stands still,” which opens the chorus of “Your Last,” are emblematic of one of the fundamental problems with this album–while there are occasional instances of quality lyrics, they are nearly always surrounded by nonsense, throwaway lines, cliché situations or topical generalities.
The content underneath titles like “That Kind of Beautiful” and “Believe” are so typical and lackluster that anyone in possession of a general familiarity with the last 20 years of country music can predict what they are about without actually hearing them. And in an environment where records are incredibly hard to sell, it doesn’t make sense to release an album that everyone has heard before.
Musically, Believe is an aptly performed album that nonetheless results in disaster. Produced by Teddy Gentry and Josh Leo (who, coincidentally, produced the albums that failed to successfully break Brandt in the U.S.), the mixing throughout is stunningly bad. Lead singer Brad Mates’ voice sounds disconnected from the tracks, layered on top of the music rather than intertwined with it.
The title cut, which features an EQd Mates repeatedly imploring listeners to “Go on, give it a try,” is hectic and rambling, while elsewhere the mix is noticeably loose, boasting little cohesion between tracks that continuously vie for priority. There is a distance between those tracks that creates a musical aesthetic where one instrument is always boldly front and center–which may have served as an interesting recording approach if not for the fact that those individual pieces seem randomly assorted and without interplay. The pulsing rhythms, guitar riffs and fiddles that rotate in and out of the spotlight work independently of each other, as if the parts of these songs were set together without the glue needed to bond them.
There is not a single song on Believe worth hearing. It is an entirely disposable album that is unoriginal, uninteresting and unnecessary.