The thing about Reid Schoenfelder’s latest LP, “Here It Comes,” is that you really want to like it. Why? Because it’s not hard to discern what he’s trying to do and what he’s trying to do is admirable. Seemingly steeped in both college and alternative rock radio, the Frederick singer likes himself some pre-“Monster” R.E.M. and if you listen hard enough, you might even find a tiny drop of Randy Newman’s quirky vocal style in his delivery. The singer has the credentials and even the most cynical music snob would conclude that his intentions appear to be nothing short of pure.
But there’s something missing from these 11 tracks. Perhaps it’s a level of production; perhaps it’s the performance’s lack of intensity, lack of inspiration. He knows all the tricks he’s supposed to know. Midtempo grooves are his friend. Candy-coated hooks vaguely reveal themselves as each chorus unfolds. An acoustic guitar always seems to be near by, even when the “rock” portion of the equation kicks into gear. So, make no mistake: Reid Schoenfelder knows his way around a pop song. And that makes you root for him.
Yet whatever that lacking intangible element proves to be is far more of an achilles heel than he probably hopes it is. Take “Place For You,” which begins promisingly with a sunny, funky acoustic guitar that might even make Jack Johnson trade in his waves for a seat at the show. Actually, it’s one of the stronger tracks here … until the bridge comes around and Schoenfelder abandons practicality in favor of ambition. Sci-fi effects unapologetically appear — complete with keyboard work that echoes Emerson, Lake & Palmer — and it’s hard not to wonder why he would tarnish such palpable momentum with an unneeded experiment.
Because predictability, in the case of this artist at least, is the guy’s strong suit. Opener “Atlantis” has some killer bass noodling, granting the proceedings a funky layer that sadly doesn’t appear anywhere else. Even the vocal effects attached to his opening phrases amount to a risk that works. Making things more memorable is the mandolin that guides the walk-up (and walk-down) as the first hook concludes. The combination is so good that even the uptick in tempo throughout the track’s second half could be forgiven, despite how unwarranted it is.
Speaking of being unwarranted, “Last Call” is what happens when a pop ballad suffers from too much thought. Reminiscent of early, slow-driven Hootie & The Blowfish hits (cough, “Let Her Cry,” cough), it would undoubtedly work better without the aid of Schoenfelder’s occasionally wobbly backing band. Worse is the singer’s desire to sound earnest. It’s not that he doesn’t often sound sincere; it’s just that it’s easy to tell when he tries too hard to get there. Sure, the backing harmonies are lush and impressive, but the time for these types of songs came and went long ago.
None of this suggests that no songs work; in fact some of them do work and they work with aplomb. “Here It Comes” makes up for the sins of “Last Call” if only because of how aware it is, with a swaying 6/8 time signature and a line like, “Watch out, man/I love to hurt a friend.” And closer “Self Sufficient,” while perhaps the most predictable of the bunch (of course this dude ends a record with an all-acoustic song), is probably the best thing here. Why? Because that’s the thing: This songwriter knows how to write songs and when his songs are stripped to their core, they succeed.
Or, well, they succeed in reaching Schoenfelder’s fullest potential. “Only You” works much better when the singer goes it alone, but here, a half-cooked rhythm section doesn’t do the song any favors. “Light” is the strongest bit of guitar pop-rock WTMD could have possibly heard in 1989, and for that, it should both be lauded and make Michael Stipe smile. But then “Graffiti” doesn’t have the rock ‘n’ roll energy it so badly wants to acquire and you’re reminded that there’s still a long way to go to perfection.
Not that Reid Schoenfelder is trying to achieve perfection with “Here It Comes;” it’s just that you want to be your best self if you’re willing to put yourself out there artistically, no matter the medium. These 11 songs suggest a pretty good songwriter underneath periodic lapses in production and sporadic failed experiments that cloud an otherwise solid effort. There are valuable qualities and capable ideas, but at the end of the day, it sounds like The OK Album someone writes before crafting The Great Album.
Or, in other words, it sounds like something you really want to like, but …
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **