Great Divide, by Semisonic
In many ways “Great Divide” is an appropriate name for the debut album for Semisonic, as it finds them straddling several great divides in the search for success as power pop musicians who had deliberately aimed after a post-grunge sound that would appeal in the post-Seattle world. Yet the band did not only aim for music that would appeal to post-grunge audiences but also were clearly showing themselves to be not far from Toad The Wet Sprocket or other power pop artists at the time who had a much softer side, and that comes through. And the great divide is not only a matter of sonic textures, but also a great deal of ambivalence in terms of their attitude towards love (with some songs being down on love and others being even cloyingly romantic), and their attitude towards success. The end result is a solid album that is easy to enjoy and has a lot of great songs, but one which leaves the listener unsure of exactly where the band is trying to go and what they are trying to accomplish, especially given the gulf between the album’s singles and its quieter moments. A track-by-track review follows:
F.N.T.: The second single off of this album, this song was a minor hit in alternative and mainstream rock and it is a solid song, certainly an excellent piece of soundtrack song and one with a noble sentiment about loving and appreciating someone whether they are new or not, showing off the band’s romantic side.
If I Run: This song is a surprisingly jaunty song about the relief that comes from thinking that one’s heavy burdens will be loosed at death, but not wanting to leave someone behind. This is a song that can be interpreted a variety of ways, including viewing one’s love towards someone as a pull away from self-destruction, or something akin to the darkness of their later song “Surprise,” but this is a standout track even with its ambiguous lyrics.
Delicious: It is little surprise that this song, which bears a strong resemblance to the more romantic material from acts like Toad The Wet Sprocket, made it onto a Friends soundtrack and onto the show. It is definitely a song that has a positive perspective about love and romance.
Down In Flames: The first single off of the album, this song is unusual in being the hardest this album hits, and its music video was banned as being too controversial to play, all of which suggests that those who liked this song would have been a bit puzzled by the rest of what the band had to offer, given the darker and more menacing tone of this song compared with the rest of what the band had to offer.
Across The Great Divide: This upbeat and happy song is the titlish track of the album and one that reflects the divide in the album itself. This is one of the more upbeat songs in the album, but it marks the division between the more upbeat and commercial songs of the album with the more reflective and downbeat songs on the album, and it is unlikely that the sequencing was accidental in this regard.
Temptation: One of the songs co-written between Wilson and drummer Slichter, this song is a moody and downtempo song about temptation, where the narrator is clearly going out of his way to court temptation, even if it tells him what he shouldn’t do, which he should probably know already and be able to avoid.
The Prize: One of the two songs on this album taken from the Pleasure EP, this song reflects a considerable amount of ambivalence about the band’s interest in success, and it shows the band hesitant and unsure about the prize that they are seeking and whether it is they want celebrity and all that comes with it. At least that’s how I read it, although it could always be about love and relationships like so many of the band’s songs.
No One Else: This song is a very slow and melancholy song that reflects upon the way that no one else can make the narrator cry like the subject of the song can, although knowing what a mensch the singer is not, this seems hard to believe as he strikes me as someone who would cry pretty easily, despite his protestations (see also “Never You Mind”).
Brand New Baby: This song, the second song taken from the Pleasure EP for this album, is a classic of the genre of trying to pretend to be happy when someone has just broken your heart by cheating on you with someone else. It’s not like this is a new sentiment, but Semisonic does it just about as you would expect and it’s a compelling number.
Falling: This song is another part of the down on love set that comes at this part of the album, and it shows the narrator expressing some irritation that someone keeps telling him that they don’t like him but are so concerned about falling, expressing sentiments that bother the singer. The song itself is a fitting one for those who have been stuck in the blob dealing with flirtatious friendships.
In Another Life: The only song on this album sung by bassist John Munson, and it expresses irritation (again) about the sentiments of a young woman, saying that maybe he won’t be around waiting for her in another life when she will finally be interested in and available for him, which is a nice way of dealing with the reincarnation problem.
I’ll Feel For You: The last song of the album, this number is a touching and romantic song that expresses the narrator’s commitment to feel what his partner cannot, and it is a touching reminder of the love and devotion that happens between people in a relationship, and a loving and positive way to end an album that has been split and divided in its approach to love and relationships.