Friday, November 18, 2016

Review of One True Thing's "Finally ..."

I posted this review earlier today on the Sputnik Music site:

This is a very aptly titled CD. Once upon a time, way back in the late ’90s, there was highly praised band by the name of Scarab. They were the darlings of the alterna-pop set, they had crossover popularity with punk fans, and among other achievements, they made it into the prestigious South by Southwest Music Festival without sponsorship, not an easy thing to do. Their future was extremely bright.

Then along came that most hideous of band killers, the bad record contract. Scarab signed a contract, and recorded a CD that they weren’t happy with. Unfortunately, they lost the rights to the recording, and even the rights to use the name “Scarab”. It looked as though they would never be heard from again.

Happily, in 2002, former Scarab members vocalist Melanie Wills and guitarist Milan Millevoy joined together with bass player Kris Hanssen and drummer Ray Greene to form a new band, One True Thing. And finally, joyously, the CD so long-awaited by former Scarab fans came into being. And it was good. In fact, very good.

Finally... combines well-written, edgy pop-rock songs with the uncanny vocals of the aforementioned Ms. Wills to create a highly enjoyable and yes, well-worth-waiting-for first effort. 

Throughout the mid-to-late '90s, Wills was one of the top vocalists on Long Island, leading to favorable write-ups in most of the local music papers and even to several guest appearances on albums by the respected Long Island metalcore band From Autumn to Ashes. Her voice is high and pure, yet very powerful, and with an unbelievable range. There was a time when her old band leaned too heavily on this asset, and every song insisted on stretching her voice as far as it would go. On this CD, though, One True Thing has learned not to force the issue – Wills’ voice can still take off when it’s called upon, but they don’t make her do it on every song, which lends it that much more power when she does let her voice soar.

There are actually two different versions of the album out there, the original release in 2002 and the more widespread 2004 version. The latter version reorders the songs, and loses two songs from the original, "Everything I Am" and "Homecoming", replacing them with "Monster" and "Who's Amazing". This is a little unfortunate, as "Homecoming" is a decent song, and "Everything I Am" is as beautiful and touching a love anthem as ever came out of the Long Island music scene. "Monster" does make up for it somewhat. It's a power ballad that allows Wills to let loose on the chorus, as she blasts out "I am the monster/Beneath your bed/And I am the skeleton in every closet!"

There are two other songs that dominate Finally .... The first is "Dearest", a devastating portrayal of an abused daughter. The music for this one is slow and creepy, befitting the subject matter, as Wills pours her heart into lyrics filled with shame and loathing: "There's a picture on the wall,/Father's arms around his daughter./Her eyes brim with tears,/But nothing mutes the hate inside." Although there have been a number of songs written about physically and sexually abused children over the years, "Dearest" does a better job than any I've heard of expressing the hurt and rage of the victim in first-person terms.

The other album highlight makes a 180-degree turn from the emotional wreckage of "Dearest". Entitled "Change", this mid-tempo number is about hope in the face of pain and depression. Written almost 10 years before Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, which seeks to help potentially suicidal LGBT teens see that life can improve after the savagery of high school, "Change" finds Wills singing a simple message to those who feel hopeless: "Well I don't even know your name./I don't even know your name,/But I wanted to tell you things change./Things change." While the lyrics here are modest, Wills' dynamic voice drives them home in a way that lends them authenticity, as she does her best to give comfort, first to a sad old man who feels that his life is over, then to a heartbroken young girl. The song is a great example of the growth of One True Thing, as here, they have saved their strongest weapon, the power of Wills' vocal cords, for a spot where it can make its maximum impact.

One True Thing continued to play together for several years after the release of Finally ..., dropping one more 3-song demo before breaking up in 2007. As unfortunate as it is that the band never broke on a national level, at least we'll always have this album to remember them by.

Rating: 4/5 stars