Before asking “Lifehouse who?” it is worth noting that this band had the most played single on US radio last year with Hanging By A Moment, an honour that apparently belonged to Shaggy‘s highly noxious It Wasn’t Me here in the UK. Now once upon a time this fact would have done nothing to increase Lifehouse’s chances of prosperity on this side of the Big Pond. We Brits don’t like po-faced, guitar-driven, “college rock” – are you listening Dave Matthews Band, Train, Matchbox Twenty et al?
Except, here’s the bemusing thing: Canadians Nickelback have, somewhat implausibly, managed to go double platinum here with Silver Side Up, all built on the success of the decidedly mediocre How You Remind Me single. Given that Lifehouse’s Hanging By A Moment tramples all over How You Remind Me from a great height in terms of quality, now is a good time to give their second album, Stanley Climbfall, a fair hearing.
And I’m glad I did because while Stanley Climbfall may be a terrible album title, and never quite sets the world alight, it is an above average slab of, erm, po-faced, guitar-driven, “college rock”. In many ways, Lifehouse are a safe and sanitised version of Nirvana. Singer/songwriter Jason Wade sounds uncannily like Mr Cobain at various points, never more so than on the electric and acoustic versions of Sky Is Falling, where the ghosts of All Apologies and Unplugged In New York, respectively, loom large.
Moreover, they play several variations of the infamous soft-loud-soft formula (Spin, Take Me Away, Just Another Name), tempered by the odd emotive, pure softie (My Precious). If this sounds more than a little derivative, that’s because it is. However, what prevents Lifehouse from becoming merely humdrum is that, just like Kurt Cobain, Jason Wade knows his way round a chorus, and even further, has a knack for writing uplifting lyrics that, while clearly spiritual, never resort to over-sentimentality or didacticism. These qualities are showcased to best effect on opener Spin, which builds from a pensive, opening salvo of
“Why would I chase your shadow all my life
And be afraid of my own?
I’d rather be with you
I’d rather not know
Where I’ll be than
Be alone and convinced that I know”
into a hugely anthemic chorus before closing with a rather ingenious, grunge wigout. It may not be another Hanging By A Moment but it’s not for want of trying.
Despite all of the above, the most likely scenario is that Lifehouse will continue to be the aural equivalent of baseball – loved by the Americans but leaving us Brits apathetic while convincing ourselves that it merely represents a less sophisticated version of something we invented already. However, if it’s a choice between hearing Lifehouse or ruddy Shaggy, Gareth or Will every time I switch on the radio, I know which one I’d choose…