REVIEW: David Singer & The Sweet Science: Civil Wars
David Singer & The Sweet Science: Civil Wars [Deep Elm, 2002] (mp3s)
Three words? Backing band bland.
"I laid it on too thick," David Singer croons on "I'm Not Leaving" and there couldn't be a truer statement about his sophomore effort, Civil Wars. While Singer certainly has the chops and flair for solid songwriting, his insistence on covering every moment of each song with an instrumental equivalent renders the emotions limp and de-emphasized. As Wilco showed us on "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," the strongest moments are in the spaces.
The reference points are all here: Elliot Smith (without the Beatlesesque pop sensibility), Rufus Wainwright (without the bravado) and Ben Folds (thankfully, without the immaturity). The songs are pleasant enough FM radio, piano/guitar driven pop, but there is nothing here we haven't heard before. The Sweet Science are a capable backing group but they don't bring much to Singer's songs.
Civil Wars is at its best when the additions of The Sweet Science band are kept to a minimum. In "Concert For Cello And Cuckold In A," Singer's best qualities come shining through: namely, his understated acoustic guitar and a soft voice accompanied nicely by cello. When Singer picks up the electric guitar and rocks out with the Sweet Science the results are frustratingly average rock songs. The album ends painfully with "I'll See You In The Moon": it's like a Neil Young C-side and has David Singer piercingly reaching for notes he can't hit, a squealing electric on the side.
All said, Civil Wars is a strong effort, but David Singer has yet to find to fully realize where his strengths lie. His talents are frankly not on the bench in front of a piano, but on the guitar. If he were confident he would let his voice speak for itself rather than trying to back it up with as many instruments as possible. This is a case were much less would be so much more.