Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Private Domain, Great Leaders (April 2008)

Legend has it that by the early 80s punk and new wave killed bloated arena rock and revitalized popular music. But over-produced, mainstream rock didn’t die; it actually got bigger. Bands like Genesis, Jefferson Starship, and Journey that were on the cusp of success in 1976 roared through the new decade with a catalog of hits and millions of adoring fans. Their proteges, meanwhile, further deadened mainstream rock into a monotonous crunch of guitar noise. Private Domain, which released its first album in 1985, is a product of that movement.

On their fourth release, Great Leaders, Private Domain marries their corporate rock heritage with an anti-establishment ethos. On the titular opener lead singers Paul Shaffer asks: “Where are the saints and all the great leaders? Why do the good ones have to die so young?” On the third song, “Spiritual Warfare,” he asks, “Why does pleasure bring us pain?” By the middle of the album I’m asking, will this guy ever have anything original to say? Not even close. From “Politix” to “So Comfortable” Shaffers skewers political complacency, televangelists, and plutocracy with the insight you’d hear at an 8th grade current events class.

The corollary to the one-dimensional lyrics is the rudimentary song structure. Hyper-conventional in arrangement, cadence, and instrumentation, Private Domain makes Hootie & the Blowfish look like Kraftwerk. They follow the verse-chorus form religiously while the arc of every song is predictable and uncreative. Musical spontaneity isn’t encouraged either; there is no improvisation on the entire album and almost every song is between 3-4 minutes.

Touches of eclecticism are apparent, however. “Say No (to the Freedom Killers)” and “Two Hits” are reggae tunes. Shades of Widespread Panic-influenced jam band music pepper the LP too. But these qualities are only notable in their unusualness, as Great Leaders never comes close to the heights that their revolutionary message promises.

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