Earlier this year I called the Foo Fighters' One by One a lonely triumph for music-lovers who'd all but given up on Serious Rock Music With Heavy Things to Say About Life. I asserted that Dave Grohl's sense of humor (and his ability to write a satisfyingly chunky melody) was integral to the success of his songs, but I don't think I realized how crucial it really was. Until now, anyway, since I've subsequently heard Birds of Pray, the latest from perhaps the most humorless band in alt-rock, Live. Birds features plenty of what makes One by One work: passionate singing, gratifying guitar fuzz, roast-beef drumming, even a chunky melody or two. But it's so bogged down with singer Ed Kowalczyk's legendarily overearnest ruminations on the weight of the world that the band has to work twice as hard as the Foos to make you care--or even to make it sound like they're enjoying themselves. And when Kowalczyk tries to evoke the sense of abandon bogged-down listeners often come to this kind of thing for in the first place, he ends up sounding like a tragically out-of-touch dad: "Paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa," he actually suggests in "The Sanctity of Dreams." "Ride a Harley through the heart of danger." Please, someone introduce this man to Jack Black.
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