Quantity over quality. It’s a simple phrase that musicians from all walks of life continuously allow themselves to be seduced by. Say Anything, for example, couldn’t help themselves after the success of 2004’s “… Is A Real Boy,” and followed up their breakthrough record with “In Defense of the Genre,” a massive double-disc collection that decidedly would have been a better listen had it been whittled down to one disc. Even Jay-Z took it too far with the second installment of his “Blueprint” series by offering a two-CD release that the rapper himself eventually conceded how much better it might have been had he decided to put a few of the album’s tracks on the chopping block by putting together “The Blueprint 2.1,” a single-disc take on his original effort.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why musicians seem to find it nearly impossible to part with some of their songs. Is it ego? Is it some indefinable desire to make sure the world can hear everything they’ve ever penned? Is it simply to make sure they have all their work properly documented for future nostalgic purposes? Is it a combination of all three things? Or is it none of them?
Whatever it is, Frederick’s Michael A. Shuck’s “The 19th Collection of Songs” suffers the most from this often-abused idiom. At 21 tracks, the singer-songwriter clearly couldn’t help himself when deciding which songs to officially release. The result is a bogged-down, almost entirely predictable effort that proves to be so mundane, it becomes increasingly difficult to decipher one song from any of the others.
The problem isn’t entirely Shuck’s fault, though — the release suffers just as much from the notion that it wouldn’t be unfair to classify “The 19th Collection of Songs” under the Christian music moniker (singing the line “Love God and love what he loves/ Love God and do what he does” during the album’s final song makes such a presumption logical, regardless of if a quick Google search results in coming across him claiming to be a mere “singer-songwriter”). No, Christian music isn’t always bad, and no, taking on such a classification doesn’t immediately discredit one’s talent or one’s work. What it does do, however, is allow the musician to spend the bulk of his concentration on relaying a faith-based message, rather than actually crafting memorable songs.
And that’s fine, really — the logic is based on priority, and broken down to its simplest form, it’s no different than a band preferring a crunchier guitar sound, or pretty, multi-part harmonies over a funky groove or a powerful horn section. However, the risk you run when taking this approach is filled with the ability to delegitimize your music and your message when both come across as not only forgettable, but also thoughtless. Or, in other words, if you make a CD filled with 21 mid-tempo, almost exclusively acoustic guitar-driven songs that never even approach being anything other than formulaic, you tend to lose any prospective listener’s attention awfully quickly.
“Groove in Time,” for instance, is nearly laughable because of its intention to get listeners excited. “Toes a tapping/ Fingers snapping/ Hands a clapping in time,” Shuck sings over a backbone that is almost literally identical to three other songs that appear here. It might work if the music behind it differed from its counterparts, but its predictability outweighs its design. Bland vocals. A blander acoustic guitar. Generic lyrics. It seems to never end.
“Becoming Eden,” “Shake Off the Dust,” “Tapped Out” and “Every Breath is a Gift” each fall into the same trap. “Daddy’s Car,” meanwhile, is memorable for all the wrong reasons because of its borderline creepiness. Here, the attempt at reminiscing becomes awkward to the point of silliness as the singer rhymes the line “There’s candy for us to eat in the back seat” with “And I think it’s really neat.”
Yes. That’s not a typo.
Only when Shuck opts for understated tenderness does he excel, even if it happens to be in only the slightest of ways. “All I Need Is You” is subtle and sweet. His acoustic guitar/soft-guy appeal flourishes here, and it makes you wonder why he can’t be this poignant and simple more often. “I don’t need the world to notice/ All I need is you/ I don’t need the spotlights shining/ Because your smile will do,” he sings, and somehow, it works. Maybe it’s because it’s the only time you feel like he’s actually trying to be earnest and not preachy. Or maybe it’s because it’s one of the very few tracks that you might argue could make the cut for a more concise release.
Either way, it underscores the reasons why “The 19th Collection of Songs” doesn’t work on even a discretionary level. Because when it becomes refreshing to hear a guy sing a simple and short love song with lines and sentiments that aren’t anywhere near actually being original, it spotlights exactly how flawed the rest of its contemporaries truly are. Sure, Michael A. Shuck’s highest priority might not be to make particularly good music, but that doesn’t justify a collection of songs that proves to be nothing more than lazy and monotonous. Maybe even more importantly, though, it certainly doesn’t justify making sure that such a collection is over-stuffed with songs that don’t belong on a CD he presumably hopes people will actually purchase.
Yes, quantity over quality is never a good idea when releasing music. But in this singer-songwriter’s case, he’s going to need to worry about making sure that quality is something worth paying attention to in the future — long before collection No. 20 ever sees the light of day.
* 1 STAR OUT OF 4 *