Jackie Cooper – The New Mood

Jackie Cooper
The New Mood

“Jesus,” a friend of mine remarked while I was giving Jackie Cooper’s The New Mood its sixth or seventh go-round, “you know how to use the echo box! We get it, already!” Far be it from me to be so direct, being a record reviewer (and, therefore, required to devote several paragraphs to my particular point of view), but it’s hard to argue with that. Most of what there is to get out of The New Mood is stylistic – all of the influences and contemporaries which Jackie Cooper is frantically pinning to its sleeve (Radiohead, King Crimson, Catherine Wheel, Slowdive, etc.) manage to balance ambience with tunefulness and memorable choruses. The New Mood is hanging on the cusp of being good, but several key issues are holding it back from being anything distinguishable – and, as such, ends up being a showcase for weak-wristed organ hammering and E-Bowing. Do I have a numbered list prepared? Why, yes I do.
1) Musicianship is a dangerously fine line to walk – on the one hand, virtuosity can suck any semblance of feeling out of a piece by virtue of its slickness and offhandedness; on the other, it is requisite for musicians to be able to actually play their instruments. Indie bands are notorious for toeing the thick line between protege and idiot in any place it can possibly be toed, and while Jackie Cooper certainly aren’t going to be going toe-to-toe with Shonen Knife in the Rudimentary-Off, they have a tendency to inadvertently lose the tempo (“Absinthe”), index-finger-poke their way through organ solos (“Eclipse”), or play a guitar part with a noticeable sloppiness (“I Over R”), which breaks the mood they’re trying to set. I’m not saying that it would be impossible for a band to Pavement their way through shoegazer, but this album certainly isn’t going to start that trend.
2) For those who aren’t in the know, after a band records an album, they generally hire someone else to “mix” it – to set all the individual volumes of each instrument at each point during each song. If a mix is done well, it will bring out the strengths in each section and provide a full sonic spectrum. If it is done wrong, you end up with muddied, obscured vocals and guitar parts that jar instead of soar. Sadly, this album is rife with such moments – I still cannot believe that the chorus of “Absinthe” was allowed to leave the plant with such an unnaturally loud lead guitar, and most of these tracks bury the vocals like – well, I don’t want to say like Jimmy Hoffa, but I can’t think of anything else famous that got buried, so there we are.
3) I’ll keep this one short – as pretty as layered guitars, cellos, and echoed synthesizers can be, it’s all for nothing if nobody can remember your songs. On a seven-song album touted as an LP where track three is an instrumental, orchestral track, I’d expect a nauseatingly high ratio of memorable moments per track. Sadly, the only song that sticks with me is the off-puttingly gorgeous “Momento,” which pits sparse drum programming against Catherine Wheel-inflected guitar work and piano chords. It also, as far as I can tell, is the least cluttered song on the album (save for the layered vocal harmonies), which has implication written all over it.
I don’t know, people – I sort of feel as though I shouldn’t have to be saying this anymore. You reach for the Radiohead brass ring, you have to earn your way there. (It’s hard to believe that Jackie Cooper had anything else in mind, considering how similar their song structures and instrumental setups are – which is my way of saying “Sorry if you did all this in a vaccuum, guys.”) I feel as though these guys have, at the very least, an engaging live act, and all whining aside, there’s quite a bit of promise here. It’s just hard for me to see promise and automatically grant that expectations of future greatness, considering how often bands settle for also-ran slots. Keep an eye on Jackie Cooper if they’re local to you; otherwise, well, Hail to the Thief comes out in a few weeks, right?