The sort of pop music favored by Gobotron is destined to remind the listener of either Weezer or Apples In Stereo. You simply cannot make pop songs held together by instantly gratifying, sugary hooks and toughened up with crunchy guitars after 1996 without calling one of those bands to mind. It’s not the worst company to be in, so long as you are aware that I’m referring to the period of time before Weezer were bizarrely hell-bent on destroying all of the goodwill they culled together in the ‘90s. However, even as a person who is aware that there was a time when Weezer were not purveyors of insultingly insipid party jams that would be embarrassing coming from people a third of their age, the name Weezer just leaves a bad taste in my mouth of late.
I mention this only to highlight the fact that I believe my opinion of Weezer has unfairly affected my opinion of Gobotron, which is the alias of choice for Manchester Orchestra guitarist Robert McDowell. This is my problem and not his, and his debut album, On Your Mark, Get Set… deserves more evenhanded consideration, because it’s far from bad. There are ear worms aplenty, and McDowell is generous in his delivery of those nagging bastards. Every single song is bathed in the most effervescent of harmonies and every hook is shined to a brilliant degree, all but ensuring that the listener yield some potentially important brain real estate in exchange for a Gobotron chorus. Some people may love this record for its meticulous sheen. The more bitter among us, those of us who cannot even listen to The Blue Album without becoming angry at history, may not find it in our dark hearts to divorce our appreciation of this album from the shoddy story of the bands that influenced it.
Of course, there are some legitimate grievances with On Your Mark to be had. For starters, the hooks do begin to coalesce as the album passes the halfway mark, which is merely fifteen minutes in. There are stray songs throughout that are not just blasts of simple, sunshine-y pop. “I Don’t Forgive” is deliberately constructed as a foreboding march, but McDowell’s devotion to appealing melodies keeps the song from approaching anything near darkness. Same goes for “Empty”, which at least slides by on the strength of its demented, bluesy bounce. It’s the one song on the album that wears its quirks proudly.
Otherwise, Gobotron seems content to pacify his listener at almost every turn. Sometimes the hooks are absolutely undeniable. A simple warning: “Never Turn Around” will be in the front of your mind no matter how much you think you’re paying attention to the task in front of you. It has the sort of chorus you’d swear you’ve heard elsewhere but cannot place it. Often though, the avalanche of unchallenging, alluring melodies can make the listener feel pandered to. Gobotron may win you over, but you might feel as though he’s coasting on your memories of other beloved tunes, rather than creating new ones.