Originally made up of duo Matt Scannell and Keith Kane, Vertical Horizon’s sound on their first two albums – “There and Back Again,” released in 1992, and “Running on Ice,” released in 1995 – consisted of effortless acoustic guitar and rich, multi-tiered harmonies. However, in 1998 Vertical Horizon added bassist Sean Hurley and drummer Ed Toth to their group and jumped on the electric bandwagon.
Not surprisingly, these changes coincided with their signing with RCA Records. However, unlike some groups in “the other boy band” genre – such as Dave Matthews Band and Dispatch, who made the switch from mostly acoustic to mostly electric but managed to keep it fresh – Vertical Horizon seemed to dumb their music way down for a new and distinctly larger radio audience.
As opposed to building on their older sound and showing their fans how they could evolve, they completely changed their style altogether. Their 1999 release, “Everything You Want,” was almost unrecognizable as the same band from their past two independent label albums.
With their newest release, “GO,” set to hit stores Sept. 23, we were provided with the chance that this album might be less controlled by RCA’s producers and the older Vertical Horizon might make a reappearance. Unfortunately, they did not deliver.
“GO” is more mainstream than ever, and its pop sound and dull melodies are indistinguishable from any other Top-40 band on the radio today. Essentially, their once fulfilling music has faded to something shallower than they are capable of creating.
The self-deemed “rock band’s” latest release contains very little rock. The first single, “I’m Still Here,” is more head bopping than head banging. I wasn’t so much bopping my head as staring blankly, but I could see how it was possible. Yes, they do let loose a bit on the ill-titled track “Sunshine,” as well as “One of You,” which both bring in a grittier guitar than the band has ever been associated with. But rock, it is not.
As each new track began, there was a new hope that it would be distinguishable from the prior and each new track disappointed, as they each bled into one another.
That is, however, until the last, “Underwater,” which did not follow suit with the previous 10. It is an unhurried, deliberate, unadorned song, which does not try to submerge – no pun intended – the band’s talent under dreary guitar hooks and monotonous bass lines as does the rest of the CD.
Lead singer Matt Scannell still has a powerful voice, and when he unleashes it – rarely on “GO” – the sound is noteworthy. And I’ll admit, my initial gag-reflex negativity toward this album faded with repeated listening, promoting it to perhaps something I wouldn’t turn off if it came on the radio. But I also wouldn’t be sad when it ended.
Mittelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.