The funny thing about singer-songwriters is that most of them can neither sing nor write songs. Occasionally a voice will emerge from the coffee-shop circuit, but for every Jeff Buckley, there are innumerable insufferable slam poets with acoustic guitars. New Jersey native Pete Yorn falls somewhere in between. On his debut, musicforthemorningafter, Yorn plays up the tortured soul angle, writing mournful love songs and looking particularly mopey in the sleeve photos. So much so that, apparently, an effort was made to pep up the recording. Recorded mostly on his own, Brad Wood (Placebo, Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Sunny Day Real Estate) was brought on board to co-produce, and the result is mixed. Yorn breaks out plenty of hooks on the album, but the production is so heavy-handed that it overshadows the singing and songwriting.
The opening track, "Life on a Chain," is a prime example--the sound alternates between scratchy analog and shimmering digital, muddling what is one hell of a song. The added bells and whistles do work at times; "For Nancy" pulsates with energy, and "Sleep Better" is a slick and sugary pop tune. Unfortunately, there are too many non sequiturs such as the random sitcom audio that bookends the throaty ballad "Lose You" and the gurgling synthesizers that appear throughout.
As for Yorn, he's a talented musician--handling most of the real instruments on the album. However, it doesn't seem as though he's found his voice yet. Either that, or he just enjoys mimicking his influences. Yorn is a regular Rich Little, pulling off a variety of impersonations: Grant Lee Buffalo, J. Mascis, Eddie Vedder, Stephen Malkmus and, of course, Elliott Smith. Lyrically Yorn struggles to emote from his bleeding heart without coming off hackneyed; in "Sense," he asks, "Is something wrong with me? I'll show you things you've never seen," while "Black" contains the priceless lyric, "Waiting for a bottle of truth/I'm just a lonely guy in my youth."
Though forced at times and infuriatingly overproduced, musicforthemorningafter is an intoxicating album with occasional moments of brilliance. "EZ" is a beautiful, country-tinged ballad with a wistful falsetto chorus, and "Just Another" is a classic bittersweet love song (though it shamefully appears on Songs from Dawson's Creek-Vol. II). Yorn is evidently trying his damnedest to sell out and make it big. Whether he will or not remains to be seen, but he's got the songs to do it.