Album Reviews

Orson – Bright Idea

(Mercury) UK release date: 29 May 2006


Formed in 2000, California’s Orson have left a sufficient impression on theBritish public to be one of iTunes’ most downloaded acts in the site’shistory, garnering consistent Radio 1 support and a strong fanbase builtlargely through the ever-useful MySpace.com.

Somewhat bizarrely, Orson havereached (or, rather, are in the process of reaching) these heights withoutever even troubling the charts in the native United States – indeed, theydon’t even have a record deal in their motherland.

Consisting of vocalist Jason Pebworth, guitarists George Astasio and KevinRoentgen, bassist Johnny Lonely and drummer Christopher Cano, Orson haveestablished themselves as peddlers of enjoyable if unthreatening guitar popthanks to singles No Tomorrow and Bright Idea. The album is full ofinfectious hooks and sunny melodies, and is often dizzyingly enthusiastic,yet the prevailing notion is one of chirpy mediocrity: two radio-friendlysingles does not a dazzling album make, and the band’s lightweightness doesnot allow them to sufficiently carry a full album.

Bright Idea is filled with the feeling that you’ve heard the materialsomewhere before, so commonplace and radio-friendly are the hooks.Happiness, for example, begins like a Rolling Stones number from the StartMe Up era, a dirty groove married to an energetic vocal from Pebworth,teasing into a powerful, almost anthemic chorus, and is an easy albumhighlight.

Guitarists Astasio and Roentgen have fun throughout, whether it is thechoppy guitars of The Okay Song of the buzzsaw attack of Tryin’ To Help.Pebworth’s vocal is also consistently strong, best exhibited on the freneticNo Tomorrow and The Okay Song, where at first he, oddly enough, sounds likeJames Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers.

Orson’s easy mass-market appeal has garnered them comparisons with the likesof Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters and the Rolling Stones. They lack theoutrage and arrogance that makes the Stones a classic band, but several ofthe riffs of Bright Idea sound like they could easily be Rolling Stonesout-takes, such as Happiness or Last Night, which couples a Stones-esquevibe to the guitar riff from Scissor Sisters’ Comfortably Numb to create adance-rock monster, with a breathy chorus, grinding guitars and a seeminglyeffortless rhythm section.

An even closer comparison is with another powerpop act, but of a differentera, The Go-Gos, who crafted albums packed with hooks married to sunnyCalifornian enthusiasm. Orson are their 21st century (male) successors,perhaps.

There are weaker moments, however, such as the forgettable So Ahead Of Me,which fails to make much of an impact at all, and the dreary piano-ledballad Look Around, where the lyrics tread closer to schmaltzy than sincere(“The flames have all died out/The hearts are still beating/The rain isgone, the rain is gone”). If anything, it proves that Orson have thepowerpop market cornered and should not foray into slower, more reflectiveterritory. Sometimes, however, the lyrics can let down the groove, asAlready Over demonstrates (“You’re a psycho bitch from hell”).

At ten songs, Bright Idea is a compact pop album, not allowing things tobecome overwrought. Had the album length been extended, you get the feelingthat the band would have run out of ideas. There isn’t anything necessarilychallenging to Orson, and their willingness to walk down the very middle ofthe musical road has earned them criticism from some quarters. That said,given their sheer enthusiasm and gusto, coupled with their ruthlessdeployment of shamelessly radio-friendly hooks, it seems almost churlish todeny Orson their five minutes in pop’s spotlight.


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