Saturday Looks Good to Me – Every Night

When Saturday Looks Good to Me frontman Fred Thomas assembled last year’s off-the-wall clever All Your Summer Songs, he did so with the comfortable anonymity of someone who had never made a dent on the national music scene. And while Thomas isn’t even close to the first person to benefit from recording without the pressure of expectations, he is infinitely more relevant to those of us huddled inside the Ann Arbor, Michigan music scene.

This is the context in which Every Night arrives, on the heels of a surprise breakthrough that saw Thomas and his rotating troupe gain national attention for their substantively retro arrangements. Not surprisingly, Every Night suffers many of the same pitfalls of post-breakthrough albums: highlighted by several of the group’s best material, the post-breakthrough album almost inevitably suffers as a whole piece.

The reviewer’s conundrum: What happens if a record is objectively very good, but contextually disappointing? Every Night is a fine album. The songwriting is strong, the arrangements still have the hazy nostalgia of someone just slightly dissatisfied with a retro sound, and the recording is still charmingly low-key. The biggest problem with Every Night, then, is its absolute lack of progress. Indeed, it fails to improve on All Your Summer Songs in even the slightest way. In fact, the two albums are virtually interchangeable.

Fine, you say. You loved All Your Summer Songs, and why screw with a good formula? In that case, more power to both you and Fred Thomas. Surrounded once again by many Ann Arbor’s underground personalities (plus another appearance from His Name is Alive auteur Warn DeFever).

If Every Night fails to improve – or even diverge – from the band’s trademark style and instrumentation, it might show a slight progression in Thomas’ lyrical ability. Always a little kitschy, Thomas has moved on to occasionally clever on Every Night. “The Girl’s Distracted” is a witty take on underground relationships, and the drawn out rhymes of “When the Party Ends,” if a little forced, still sound moving when towed along by the song’s strong melody.

Many of the songs fail to distinguish themselves but are enjoyable nonetheless. The full-band pickup of “Dialtone” is a nice indie romp. Opener “Since You Stole My Heart” again utilizes a female voice to deliver a slight, wistful melody over layers of an old soul arrangement. To Thomas’ credit, he knows that his songs deserve the care and concern of many others: no less than 19 musical contributors are listed in the liner notes. This is a definite strength – a more ego-centric ringleader would bake himself silly in the studio, leading to an incestual, uninspired product. Thomas is smart enough to let others feast on his ample songwriting talent, turning potentially trite material into charmingly orchestral pop music.

There is, unfortunately, little to say about Every Night that was not said about its predecessor. Hopefully, this is a stopgap for the ambitious Thomas: one last jaunt as a collective of local musicians fleshing out his gorgeous melodies. Thomas is fortunate – and talented – enough to have the ear of a national audience, but he’s planted himself firmly in his hometown. And like any townie, he might want to get out a little more often.