(One Ton Records)
You can't love or hate Buck Jones -- there's nothing but middle ground with the band. There's just not enough on the band's latest, Bliss -- or 1997's Shimmer, for that matter -- to inspire such strong feelings...or any feelings, really. Sure, the band won so many honors for Most Improved Act in the Dallas Observer Music Awards that we retired the trophy. But the group has never improved in leaps or bounds, only in increasingly tinier baby steps; if you go from here to here, you ain't doing much traveling. The only thing the band has consistently done better is cover up its mistakes, leading to Bliss, a disc so antiseptic, Lysol should have released it. The group's 1994 debut, Shoegazer, was promising because of the mistakes, the way each song got rougher around the edges. All Bliss has is a few sandpaper marks where the jagged spots used to exist.
Bliss and Shimmer are what happens when you try to play guitar with a pen in your hand waiting to sign on the dotted line, when you stop making music and start making product. They aren't bad records, just insignificant, aimless, and faceless collections that are forgotten before they're remembered. Since Billboard surprised the band by giving Shoegazer a bit of national press a few months after its release, Buck Jones has seemingly been trying to find a way onto the magazine's charts, and along the way, it's lost the plot, the story, and the actors. The major labels will undoubtedly come calling sooner or later, but that only means that Buck Jones is a one-hit wonder waiting for its one hit.
And Bliss is full of songs that could qualify. "Everything" is the obvious lite-rock crossover, and "Air" makes good use of singer-bassist Gabrielle Douglas' almost-crying voice. What becomes most apparent by album's end -- something the group's previous discs hinted at and Bliss confirms -- is that while Douglas may get more notice, Buck Jones is a better band when singer-guitarist (and Gabrielle's husband) Burette Douglas is at its helm. His vocals on "Decide" are 1950s simple -- think Buddy Holly onstage at EDGEFest -- and it's one of the few songs on Bliss that has the immediacy of Shoegazer, if not its pedal-pushing guitars. The band does seem to be more willing to hang its songs on unadorned hooks rather than hide them behind gauzy curtains of feedback (such as on the gentle "Wash," which is little more than acoustic guitars and brushed drums). But instead of revealing previously smothered melodies, the move only gives you a glimpse of heretofore hidden blandness. Bliss is anything but. It's not much of anything at all.
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