Jay Brannan’s debut album, Goddamned, was a very mixed bag. Its opening track, Can’t Have It All, made promises that the rest of the album couldn’t quite fulfill. The record’s best moments could have been offcuts from Joni Mitchell‘s Blue; its worst moments just aren’t worth mentioning. And the less said about the Texan’s nasal, college-boy croon the better, too. Now Brannan, who got his big break with the 2006 film Shortbus (as an actor and soundtrack contributor), makes a surprisingly swift return with In Living Cover.
As the album’s slightly irritating title reveals, the new record largely consists of covers. Two tracks are newly written. Merely glancing at the song titles is another immediate source of irritation. There’s something horribly sappy about nearly all of them. Beautifully. Say It’s Possible. All I Want. Good Mother. Both Hands. They sound like excerpts from cheap greetings card poetry.
The album’s production, like the debut, is also on the cheap side; but this isn’t to the record’s detriment. Ramming incessantly cloying sentiment down the throat with the aid of a full orchestra could have been In Living Cover’s final coffin nails. Thankfully, Brannan’s simple arrangements, which involve little more than acoustic guitar plucks and the odd cello or piano, don’t turn this record into an unrelenting exercise in overblown torch balladry.
But sentimental ballads they are, none the less; and by the time the album reaches its conclusion it’s unlikely anyone will want to listen to another one for some time. There are a number of problems here. Brannan’s voice, which sounds like it still needs to break, is utterly flaccid and completely colourless. Similarly, the album’s timbre refuses to move out of a mood of somnolence, turning Brannan’s whimper into a protracted exercise in blackboard-scratching endurance. And then there’s the album’s ceaseless, self-pitying drone.
In Living Cover is bookended by two new tracks, Beautifully and Drowning. The former track’s lyrics are so repugnant, even blond über-geek Dawson Leery would feel uncomfortable serenading Joey with them in a particularly offensive episode of Dawson’s Creek: “When she said / my my love extends / beyond the realm of being friends / he kissed her head / and quietly he said / ‘it’s not that you’re not beautiful, you’re just not beautiful to me’.” Why not just tell the woman she’s repulsive before she uses the hole of your guitar as a convenient place to vomit? During the second, soporific track, Brannan explains: “I feel like drowning.” Not the only one, Jay.
Brannan’s choice of songs to cover range from the pretty good to the why, oh, why? Joni Mitchell‘s All I Want and Bob Dylan‘s Blowin’ In The Wind are obvious classics. The former is treated respectfully, the second is an a cappella bastardisation that should never have been sanctioned. Most of the album’s remaining tracks are utterly vacuous interpretations of songs that few are likely to care much about. They offer nothing new to anyone or anything. And to round things off, there’s a not-much-needed rehash of The Cranberries‘ most regrettable outing, Zombie. It just about says it all, doesn’t it? Torture, from beginning to end.