|Jon Brion - Meaningless|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Thursday, 01 November 2001|
On Jon Brion’s website, there is a very telling quote about his music from Beck, one of the most popular artists in alternative music today: "Jon is a master of pop. There is nothing he can’t do." The comparisons to Brian Wilson and John Lennon are inevitable. Brion's weekly live shows at the Los Angeles nightclub Largo have developed a cult following. His composition for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia and his production work with Aimee Mann for the same film earned him multiple Grammy nominations. He has also produced, written and performed music with Fiona Apple, Macy Gray, the Wallflowers and Beck, just to drop a few names. He now has a solo album titled Meaningless, 11 songs of pure pop filled with Brion’s John Lennon-esque vocals, his Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, complete with his prolific arsenal of keyboard-type instruments including mellotrons, optigans and chamberlins.
Brion signed with Atlantic Records executive Jason Flom’s Lava Records label in 1999. This could have been the break that would have moved Brion from a highly respected studio guru to a full-fledged pop star. Lava Records was the label responsible for the mega-success of acts including Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray and Kid Rock. As Brion created his record, he would turn his work-in-progress in to the powers that be at Lava, but the material was received with great disinterest. He went back to the studio to make some changes and put together more material, but again, this was not warmly received by the label. In his frustration, Brion got himself out of his deal with Lava Records. Over a year later, his first solo album Meaningless has been released independently through ARTISTdirect and is only available at www.jonbrion.com.
The first five songs on Meaningless were released as a Lava Records advanced sampler cassette and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy in1999. Songs one through five are the best on the album and are actually the rough mixes of the songs that Brion handed in to Lava. To me, the album’s standout is "I Believe She’s Lying," a very fast pop song with a gritty but not overly distorted guitar and lyrical backup from vocalist and longtime friend Aimee Mann. "Walking Through Walls" features a Beatles-like piano that bounces along a la "OB-La-Di, OB-La-Da." Making the Beatles comparison was my first reaction to his music, but as I listened more to the album, I began to hear less Beatles and more Jon Brion in the music. The first five tracks are some of the most solid pop songs I’ve ever heard consecutively on one album.
When the album got into songs six through 11, territory that was unfamiliar to me, I found myself comparing it to the first half of the record. The songs sound better, due to the fact they were recorded under less duress in better studios, but somehow don’t have the same raw energy. Even so, most of the songs in the second half are just as strong melodically as the earlier tunes. For me, it took four or five complete listens to begin to appreciate the "rest" of the album. Humans tend to gravitate toward what we are familiar with, and it wasn’t till I drilled the melodies and lyrics into my head that I began to appreciate the final six songs on Meaningless. "Hook Line and Sinker" and "Dead To The World" are two songs that will resonate in your head with their cleverly written melodies. Are they as good as the first five songs? Not really, but they certainly round out the album well and ultimately left me wanting to hear more from Brion.
If you are ever in Los Angeles on a Friday night, you need to do yourself a favor and see Brion’s live performance. It’s a very unique evening filled with surprise musicians and Brion's pop songs, as well as his improvisations on requests from the audience. Imagine the Scooby Doo theme played as an eight-minute classical music piece on piano or "Rock You Like a Hurricane" as a ragtime piece and you’ll get an idea of what he’s all about. Jon Brion has more musical talent in his pinky than most people have in their entire bodies. The zany nature of his live show doesn’t directly translate to Meaningless, but the musicianship certainly does and that is what makes it such a find.