Influences are tricky. On the one hand, what we usually call “originality” isn’t much more than combining old influences in ways they haven’t been combined before. On the other hand, there is such a thing as being too reverent to your influences without adding anything of your own, and this is the trap that Quiet Company skirts around on A Dead Man on My Back: Shine Honestly Revisited.
It’s a solid enough record. But mostly, this album just reminds me of other bands. That’s evident from the very beginning. “How Many Times Do You Want to Be in Love,” the album’s opener, starts off a lot like Wilco’s “Misunderstood.” The vocals, the minimal accompaniment, even the melody. But where Being There announced Wilco as major innovators prepared to reinvent themselves and shape the course of modern indie rock, “How Many Times Do You Want to Be in Love” announces Quiet Company as a band who has heard a lot of albums but doesn’t know what quite to do with them. So you’ve got “Fashionable” sounding like Yo La Tengo’s “Moby Octopad” as performed by Mott the Hoople, you’ve got “…Then Came a Sudden Validation” sounding like a Journey ballad with added strings and horns (it’s the worst song here as a result), you’ve got “Circumstance” sounding like Dinosaur, Jr. covering Patti Smith, but you don’t get a lot of Quiet Company. You mainly just get their record collection.
Still, there’s plenty of likeable stuff here. Nothing exceptional here, but a few real pleasures. Chief among them is “Tie Your Monster Down,” which begins as a placid country song and builds to a full-bore climax packed with horns and crunchy guitars; you’ve got “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History,” which moves through glam rock piano with Wayne Coyne vocals, loping carnival music, well-crafted pop, and a Beach Boys-style pocket symphony (it almost seems like a bit of a post-modern joke at the band’s own expense, and it’s the fun sort of postmodern joke, so I’m about it); you’ve got the surprisingly alternative rock flavored “I Was Humming a New Song to Myself,” and best of all, the genuinely uplifting “We Change Lives.”
Still, the record could use a little more personality, and I mean personality of its own… maybe if this band had a sort of dominant emotional concern or favorite eccentric instrument or more distinctive vocalist, I’d be a bigger fan of theirs. As it stands, the diversity on display is pretty stunning and the melodies mostly connect (although a few songs miss and a lot don’t really do anything for me), but they’ve got to add a little more to the idea pool if they want to really separate themselves from the pack.