While most of us haven't heard much from Better Than Ezra in a while, lead singer and songwriter Kevin Griffin hasn't stopped churning out hits- he's just been writing them for other people. Griffin was behind both of Howie Day's recent hits "Perfect Time of Day," and "Collide." In addition to vicarious success through Day, the Better Than Ezra frontman also co-wrote the biggest radio single of the year in Australia, with Missy Higgins' "Scar." When you're in a band that most of the industry is passing on, writing a hit for someone else must feel like a kick to the balls, but Better Than Ezra is hoping that with their new album, Before The Robots, pure musical talent will speak past the pop-music machine and make a direct connection with appreciative fans.
Make no mistake about it, Better Than Ezra has plenty of hurdles to overcome in an industry that favors the newest and youngest faces, and in a music scene where their unique New Orleans rock sound may get over looked in favor of a newer punk/glam influenced rock scene. Add to these woes the fact that their label has chosen for their first single a song that has already appeared on a previous album ('A Lifetime' appearing on "Closer"). The sound of this track will be pleasing to BTE's established fans, but better reflects the musical mood of its original release date, and will no doubt hinder BTE's hope of reaching new fans with a fresh sound. Even the sale date was botched by BTE's label, with records going on sale weeks before the scheduled release.
All label mis-handling aside, Better Than Ezra has still managed to produce a surprisingly good album with Before the Robots. After getting over the fact that I wasn't exactly stoked to see 'A Lifetime' resurrected and released as the first single, I was really impressed with the progressiveness of many of the album's other tracks. A particular treat was 'Daylight,' a warm and uplifting song that reflects the power and confidence that can only come from a band with a good deal of musical maturity under its belt.
Shockingly, the greatest weight of this album's noteworthy songs are packed onto the album's end, with tracks 9-13 showing exactly what this album could have been: Inventive, fun, fresh, and true to the band's voice. 'A Southern Thing' is, remarkably, a driven southern rock ballad, somehow nicely followed with 'Juicy,' a Prince-like funk and R&B rhythm and sound. 'Juicy' is followed by another winner, 'Hollow,' this one more reflective of BTE's established rock style. 'Our Finest Year' is a strong track, although perhaps over representative of the nostalgic rock song genre. Finally, 'Breathless' closes out the album perfectly- it is one those rare songs that carries such a mood and atmosphere in itself that it leaves the listener more pleased with each song that precedes it.
Better Than Ezra is still writing and performing hits…what remains to be seen is if those songs will ever get the exposure they need to be discovered by the fans. The listeners who find their way to this album will no doubt be well rewarded for the effort.