Our Lady Typical
Our Lady Peace's Spiritual Machines Doesn't Rise to its Own Challenge

Almost Famous is out on video and DVD. Go rent it if you haven’t seen it. If you don’t like it, I mean really don’t like it, e-mail me and I will personally go to your house and give you 50 bucks.

Hello. How are you? I know you, I knew you, I think I can remember your name. I’ve had a pretty eventful seven days, and I’m slowly remembering the unfortunate side-effect of writing for a living. Put simply, you just don’t feel like coming home and writing some more. This is take two of the column for this week as well. I got two new albums on Tuesday, and I thought I’d split them up over this week and next week, so I picked one – Semisonic’s All About Chemistry – to write about this time. It was a good plan, but it hit a sizeable snag.

I have nothing whatsoever to say about Semisonic’s All About Chemistry.

Oh, it’s not a bad record, it just doesn’t seem to inspire the flowing verbiage. Hence, I’ve scrapped take one with the intention of ruminating all this week on Semisonic and getting back to it. This leaves the second of the two records, Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines. Nothing else even remotely interesting has come out or has happened in the world of music lately to fill this column, so here we go…

Our Lady Peace is one of the only bands I know that I like immensely for almost no reason. Ninety percent of their charm comes from lead singer Raine Maida, and I can’t really put my finger on why I dig him, either. His voice is an odd combination of Billy Corgan, Alice Cooper, Jonathan Davis and Rufus Wainwright, yet somehow it works. His whining, acrobatic warble is completely idiosyncratic and yet totally appealing in an indescribable way. This is a good thing, since it’s his band’s one remarkable strength.

Our Lady Peace has never felt the smiling gaze of fame, and for once there’s a pretty good reason for that. The band is sturdy, steady, tight and utterly faceless. They’ve always hawked the brand of heavy-guitar alt-pop that made bands like Everclear famous, and their songwriting has always been just this side of really good. They had a pair of pseudo-hits from their second album, Clumsy, namely the title tune and “Superman’s Dead,” and I’m betting that’s as close as they’ll ever come to mass exposure.

Thing is, I can’t pan them, either. There was nothing wrong with their third album, Happiness Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, except the asinine title. They play with textures that augment their typical crunchy rock well, and of course, they have Maida singing for them. I can’t say that I haven’t liked anything they’ve done, even though I’d never recommend them as a sterling group of musicians. They’re too typical.

That typicality has plagued this band from the start, and on their fourth album, they’ve taken some steps to shake it. Spiritual Machines is a futuristic concept album based loosely on Ray Kurzweil’s book The Age of Spiritual Machines, and it concerns mechanical beings developing emotions and fighting for basic human rights. (At least, that’s what the book’s about.) The songs are segued together with excerpts from Kurzweil, and the cover art is decidedly futuristic.

If all this is reminding you of Radiohead’s OK Computer, go to the head of the class. That album serves as the inspirational base for Spiritual Machines, and one could certainly do worse than to try to emulate the best record of the last eleven years. There’s just one tiny problem. Our Lady Peace are not even in Radiohead’s league. It would be impossible (and believe me, I’ve tried) to categorize Radiohead, or even succinctly describe their work. Our Lady Peace is an alternative rock band. Period.

Spiritual Machines doesn’t quite benefit from the space-age concept the band has forced upon it, but the theme doesn’t hinder the record, either. Honestly, you can just ignore it. The songs are only marginally connected to Kurzweil’s work. It feels like the band tried to shoehorn the concept onto a group of songs they’d already written. Sure, it works – “In Repair,” for example, could easily be about both emotional and mechanical breakdowns – but it’s not necessary.

Stripped of its pretensions, Our Lady Peace’s album is nothing more than another strong set of decent alt-rock. And again, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing remarkable about it either. You’ll hum “Made to Heal” for about 10 minutes, and then you’ll forget it entirely. I’m looking at the track listing right now, and despite the fact that I’ve heard Spiritual Machines six times, I can’t remember anything about either “Middle of Yesterday” or “Everyone’s a Junkie,” except that I liked them while they were playing.

At times on this album, Our Lady Peace make small attempts to transcend their sound, most successfully on the concluding three tracks. “All My Friends” builds admirably over a suspended chord pattern, “If You Believe” stands out as the most memorable track with its piano-based chorus, and “The Wonderful Future” is a pleasant clean-guitar closer. None of them really rise above the alt-rock stigma, but the effort is appreciated.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the real reason to listen to Our Lady Peace is Raine Maida. Like Jon Davis (of Korn), Maida is completely unafraid of his own voice. He wields it, sending it to stratospheric heights with stunning confidence. He also extends that confidence like a forcefield, covering the rest of the band. With any other singer, Our Lady Peace might be intolerably boring, but Maida makes it almost impossible to dislike them.

For example, take “Are You Sad,” one of the album’s best tracks. The chorus lyrics are the epitome of trite: “Are you sad? Are you holding yourself? Are you locked in your room? You shouldn’t be…” The music is sweet and textured, but it’s Maida’s falsetto delivery that carries the tune. Try to imagine, say, the guy from Bush trying to sell that song, and when you’re done laughing, you’ll appreciate Maida’s contribution. Our Lady Peace is lucky to have him.

There’s very little to set Spiritual Machines apart from a slew of alt-rock albums available in your local record store. (As a quick side note, the one wretched song, “Life,” is naturally the first single.) Still, the last three songs hold out some hope that, record company willing, they might one day release something that rises above the guitar-drenched mire they’ve been in since the beginning. While it’s not a bad effort, Spiritual Machines isn’t it.

Next week, I’ll try to coalesce my thoughts on All About Chemistry. Now shut the computer off and go rent Almost Famous. There could be 50 bucks in it for you. But I doubt it.

See you in line Tuesday morning.