The Grip Weeds – Summer of a Thousand Years

The Grip Weeds
Summer of a Thousand Years

While it’s been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, everybody knows that even flattery gets old after awhile. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of popular music. On the one end of the spectrum you get Elvis impersonators and groups like Beatlemania, whose only purpose for existing is in trying to recreate something that can never be enjoyed again. Fun, maybe. Fat guys in funny looking suits may be all the rage this time of year, but would the King of Rock be flattered by seeing sweaty guys with grease dripping off their heads butchering his songs? Highly doubtful. On the other end of the continuum, you find artists like the Ray Mason Band or We Are Vikings, both bands who obviously know their influences yet combine them to create something vaguely and uniquely their own. Between those two extremes you might find the Grip Weeds.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Grip Weeds aren’t a pathetic band of rock revivalists looking to perfectly recreate Pete Townshend riffs or Ringo Starr rim-shots. But they do, at times, come off as a cover band that just happens to write, perform, and record their own songs. Good songs, too. Cleanly cut from the cloth of 60’s guitar-rock/power-pop/British Invasion that has more or less formed the vocabulary of modern rock music. With brothers Kurt and Rick Reil leading their band through a set of decidedly backward-looking gems, with smooth harmonies and 12-string guitars blazing, you might think that you’ve unearthed another post-mod Who album. Formulaic to a fault, with all the riffs covering the familiar Townshend/Harrison/McGuinn terrain you’d expect and the melodies soaring and swerving in familiar places, the appeal of the Grip Weeds depends almost entirely on how much you like the various rock movements of the 1960s.
Still, for even those who are absolutely fanatical about the sunny sounds of a bygone era (I’d count myself among them), the Grip Weeds just may not be able to sustain your attention. To apply social Darwinism to music, in a crowded market competing for your hard-earned money, you may be more likely to pick up the new Radiohead album and give your worn out copy of Revolver another spin than purchase an album by a band that only aspires to recreate the aura of sounds you already know. That’s not to say that the Grip Weeds don’t do what they do extremely well. There are more than a few moments where you could actually be convinced that you are hearing Daltry, Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon at their almost best, with tracks like the sing-songy “Love That Never Ends,” the insurgent “Is It Showing,” and even a nearly note-perfect cover of The Who’s “Melancholia” fighting for space in the mix of classic sounds.
Everything here is just a little too inoffensive, though. The mix is so undeniably clean and even and the textures and tones so similar that by the end of the album you feel a little like you’ve just heard 14 renditions of the same song at varying speeds. Few chances are taken with this recording, which is where imitation crosses the line into becoming tedious repetition. You get the impression that they set out to make an album of the perfect textbook guitar-pop songs circa 1967 and actually succeeded. But in 2002 do you want perfect textbook guitar-pop songs from 1967? Neither do I. I want disturbingly honest songs. Breathtakingly gorgeous songs. Scary songs. Loud songs. Ugly songs. Songs with words that don’t make any sense. Songs so audacious that half of them don’t even work. I want anything but exactly what I already have. With The Grip Weeds, I get the feeling that they’ve been rooting through my record collection and have simply melted down my old LPs and recast a new album with their name on the label.
So, I find myself in a weird position, condemning a band for being too good. The payoff is immediate with Summer of a Thousand Years, as they don’t even bother with the occasional avant garde flourishes of bands like the Apples in Stereo or Of Montreal. You’ll either love them, hate them, or be entirely indifferent to them on first listen, depending on your foundational musical preferences. But it’s hard to say that your first impression should change in any way with repeated spins. There is nothing here to win you over if you aren’t already convinced by the cumulative history of Western guitar-pop. If you enjoy playing “name the influence,” it’s a pretty good album. If you wish there was just one more obscure 60’s band that you haven’t unearthed yet, this may be worth your $12, too. But if you’ve already been through them all, from the Creation to the Sonics, from the Beau Brummels to the Move, maybe you should look for something else. Something that isn’t so obviously flattering.