Defying Genre No Longer a Novelty for G. Love
G. LOVE AND SPECIAL SAUCE Yeah, It's That Easy Epic Records
Right from the beginning of its first track, Yeah, It's That Easy frustrates the G. Love fan who has been acclimated to the loose, raw groove of his earlier work. Listen to the intro of the first single, "Stepping Stones": acoustic guitar chords ring out (good), followed by spacey-sounding slide (not so good), then the upright bass enters the picture (very good), followed by background singers crooning "na na" (what the...?). The rest of the album is maddeningly uneven in the same way. Catchy, funky numbers are buffered by colorless, inarticulate rants. Promising compositions are deprived of vitality by slick production and extraneous instruments and vocals.
But bear with the gangly G. Love: it's unfair to expect an artist to keep producing the same kind of material, but in the case of Yeah, It's That Easy, the different elements are unsuccessful. G. Love's music incorporates hip-hop, blues, funk, rock, soul and jazz, often within the same song. Somewhat paradoxically, this breadth of influences may serve to constrain, rather than expand, his musical frontier, because after pinpointing a way of incorporating all those elements, there wasn't much he could change without losing one or more of them. Unfortunately, unlike his groundbreaking initial efforts, G. Love & Special Sauce and Coast to Coast Motel, this new recording seems to obscure, rather than highlight, G. Love's unique musical conception and voice. Yeah, It's That Easy is more polished than his previous work, but it's also more bland.
The presence of many new musicians on the album is a large factor in this change; not only are there several different backup bands, but more notably, there are new vocalists. Before, G. Love recorded exclusively with the Special Sauce--drummer Jeff Clemens and bassist Jimmy Prescott but on this album, the All Fellas Band has a large presence as well. G. Love's collaborations with the latter band, marked by the insipid rapping of vocalists Katman and Smiles, are the least successful performances on the album. Irrelevant lyrics make things worse: the content of songs such as "Lay Down The Law" and "1-76" (which refer to a personal acquaintance and G. Love's hometown Philadelphia, respectively) will mean nothing to most listeners.
So the record hits and misses. Although this nature is not mew to his recordings, it is more obvious on this one because of the number of misses and the expectation that this would be the album for G. Love to firmly establish himself. But let's concentrate on the hits--songs with a startlingly fresh sound and a very natural appeal. These are mostly the tunes written primarily by G. Love himself and performed with the Special Sauce--exactly the formula for the goodness of the first two albums.
On songs including "You Shall See" and "Recipe," G. Love's trademark half-rapping, half-singing vocals are placed in the effective context of simple riffs and catchy choruses, propelled by the tight and punchy playing of the Special Sauce. This was the formula for the first, self-titled album, in which the dynamic accompaniment of the band made G. Love's purposefully languid vocal delivery and sloppy guitar work distinctively compelling, rather than simply ridiculous sounding. "You Shall See" has the live, acoustic instrumentation that made the first two albums so novel-- a sound that is sadly almost absent from this one.
Highlights "Willow Tree" and "Take You There" follow up on the more melodic and structured tendencies of Coast to Coast Motel. "Willow Tree" may be the most beautiful song G. Love has recorded; with its relaxed groove and flowing instrumentation, it is an instance in which his musical conception is fully formed and fully successful. In keeping with the overall sound of this album, though, the vocal line is doubled and multiple guitar tracks are used, to questionable effect. An earlier version with stripped-down instrumentation, available on a tape distributed at G. Love concerts, is arguably better.
"Take You There" is heavily soultinged and melodic to the point of being syrupy. Like "Willow Tree," it is thoroughly developed song, contrasting with the facet of G. Love's style that involves essentially a rap over a riff. Like Coast to Coast Motel's "Kiss and Tell," it may be a little cheesy to some listeners, but it definitely represents a musical direction with merit.
Vaguely political tirades such as "200 Years" and "Yeah, It's That Easy," on the other hand, lack any such potential. G. Love can be an amusing and capable lyricist, although other aspects of his talent supercede his verbal stylings. Unfortunately, Yeah, It's That Easy seems to be a step backwards in this regard: the inside-joke content of the already-mentioned "I-76" and "Lay Down The Law" is one indication, while the trite societal criticism of "200 Years" and "Yeah, It's That Easy" is another. "200 Years" (referring to the U.S. bicentennial) starts off with a chanted refrain of "the emperor wears no clothes" and turns into an incoherent criticism of government dishonesty. "Yeah, It's That Easy" treats the issue of race relations with similar heavy-handedness. And unlike "This Ain't Living," a similarly conceived song from the first album, there isn't enough musically to rescue these performances. What G. Love does well lyrically is describe romantic relationships, both dysfunctional and heavenly. At least such lyrics don't detract from the music. G. Love's music doesn't lend itself to societal commentary anyhow, and his clumsy writing doesn't help.
Newcomers will find G. Love & Special Sauce's sound refreshing and fun. But Yeah, It's That Easy, instead of building upon and refining the successful elements of his first two albums, introduces unsuccessful new ones that mask the old. This is not to say that G. Love should stick to a formula; any good artist must try new things and unsuccessful attempts will often precede successful ones. Yet his self-titled debut, or--if hearing a white guy rap badly but charmingly is too much--his sophomore release, Coast to Coast Motel, would be a more fitting introduction to his music.