Vertical Horizon – “Burning The Days”

It’s hard to tell where the sudden industry nostalgia came from for late-’90s alternarock. The industry that killed the style due to an insistance upon propping up dozens of varying radio formats rather than promoting quality acts to a wide audience seems to suddenly be reviving every band in the genre capable of still putting together an album. Third Eye Blind had a lousy album rocket to #3 on the charts this year. Alice In Chains returned with an album (sans Lane Staley) 14 years after their last. Even Everclear has come out with a new record this year. One has to wonder if there’s a Marcy Playground or Harvey Danger reunion being plotted by number-crunching execs.

A Vertical Horizon reunion was at least foreshadowed a bit when Matt Scannell and Richard Marx teamed up for a relatively uninspired album of duets called Duo, wherein each artist took on the work of the other; the touring for that album frequently featured a new Scannell song called “Save Me From Myself,” which gets the best arrangement on the band’s newest album Burning The Days. “Save Me From Myself” is the best song Vertical Horizon has released since their only platinum effort, Everything You Want. It’s a dark, haunting rock melody coupled with cryptically haunting lyrics that perfectly fit Scannell’s cliched mode of rock. Which is to say this is a song which is definitely worthy of online purchase.

But the rest of the album is as dull as everything else coming out this year in the “let’s time-travel to 1998” brand of label marketing. No, this isn’t as cringe-inducingly bad an album as Third Eye Blind’s Ursa Major, which will go down as one of my five most disappointing albums of the year. But for an album which wears the line “I’m done with the middle ground” on its sleeve (that’s right, on a song called “The Middle Ground,” which features Scannell singing eerily like contemporary Christian singer Bebo Norman) the material here flirts dangerously with becoming the poster material for the middle ground.

There’s not an ounce of variety to be found on this album, so for the band’s sake I’m at least respectful of the fact that they did hone in on the one good single to promote the album. But if you hear “Save Me From Myself” and go out and buy the album on its strength, you’re going to be ultimately disappointed. The rest of the album comprises eleven stale retreads of what they thought worked on their sophomore album Go. “I know you’re awake because you shake when you cry,” Scannell sings on “The Middle Ground,” sounding like he’s decided like he’d be happy writing material for Hinder. “You’re either alive or a lie,” he croons and I feel like gouging something into my ears to stop the hook from reverberating. Done with the middle ground indeed.

It’s hard to blame the band, however, for wanting another chance at the spotlight. However it’s hard to imagine this material penetrating any form of radio these days. As difficult as it was to whore a single to program directors in the late 90s it’s infinitely more difficult these days, as Clear Channel owns half the airwaves. Which makes me feel a little bad trashing an album that, if the band’s lucky, only 10,000 people will end up hearing. That said, if you want your late’ 90s nostalia, you’re better off returning to your record collection than by wasting your time or money on this middling effort. Buy a copy of “Save Me From Yourself” and add it to your alt-rock rotation; the rest is just embarassing.

Meanwhile, if you hear Marcy Playground’s prepping a reunion tour and launching a new album, run quickly in the other direction. You know it’s coming …

Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.

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