Think The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache (and Other Frightening Tales) is a long title? Try listening to the album. Wow.
I realize this isn’t the way things are done in the digital age, when labels were, until recently, trying to squeeze $19 out of anyone who wanted to buy a high-profile full-length album, and the increased storage of the CD has convinced artists that they need to stuff every available minute of each release with music, whether or not it’s any good — but really, there isn’t anything wrong with a 10-song album that ends somewhere between the 35 and 45-minute mark. An album is supposed to be a listening experience, a journey that takes you from start to finish without ever letting you go — and unless you’re either wildly eclectic or putting together a compilation of your greatest hits, 16 tracks is just too many.
Jason Reeves, for the record, is not particularly eclectic, and this album does not consist of his greatest hits.
What Reeves is, actually, is a member of the Jason Mraz/Matt Nathanson school of singing, where every note sounds like it might be the prelude to a crying fit. Unlike Mraz, Reeves doesn’t waste time adding a layer of irony to his songs, or trying to spice things up with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor — and unlike Nathanson, Reeves seems to have no desire to rock. What that leaves the listener with, at least as far as this album’s concerned, is a very sensitive dude with a pretty voice who knows his way around a melody and isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels. Sort of a Stephen Bishop for the 21st century, if you will.
Sadly, Stephen Bishop fans who have been waiting for the major labels to hop back on the Mellow Gold bandwagon probably won’t think much of Adventures, because even though Reeves has amassed a steadily soothing, intermittently quite catchy body of work — some of which he brings over here from earlier albums — on this release, it’s run through the industry’s bad production sausage factory, in which all of a song’s ingredients are compressed beyond recognition and encased in a shiny, gross layer of…well, not intestines, certainly, but I think I’ve probably carried the analogy far enough. If you’ve listened to a major-label pop record in the last few years, you know what I’m talking about — narrow dynamics, wall-to-wall compression, a bright and brittle mix, and vocals that sound like they’ve been Auto-Tuned even if they haven’t.
It’s sad, because even though I found Adventures to be fairly samey and a bit of a butt-number, Reeves is a gifted balladeer, and even though his heart-on-forehead lyrics are easy to snicker at (“All that we are is defined by each others’ shipwrecked hearts,” he croons in “Entwined” [download]), his willingness to forego easy cynicism is refreshing, and sort of admirable. In the right sonic setting — and, good Lord, with far fewer songs — Reeves could deliver some seriously compelling albums. Maybe Stephen Bishop should produce his next one — he can’t be too busy, right?