If there is one term in popular music that exemplifies misnomer, it is “supergroup.” Coined to describe Cream, a band whose members did their best work together, its meaning has changed radically over the years, such that any assortment of has-beens are dubbed a “supergroup” when they are anything but. To mention two supergroups of this decade, Audioslave euthanized the fury and passion of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine into dull, MOR post-grunge, while Velvet Revolver strengthened the case for a mandatory retirement age for heavy metal musicians. On the evidence of this eponymous debut album, Tinted Windows fits the bill of the 21st century supergroup, not its 1970s counterpart.
The first rule of the 21st century supergroup is that it is less than the sum of its parts. To be fair to Tinted Windows, its parts are pretty impressive. Perhaps the biggest tribute to James Iha’s talent is the sheer awfulness of “Zeitgeist,” the 2007 album Smashing Pumpkins made without him. Bassist Adam Schlesinger and drummer Bun E. Carlos have similarly impressive resumes with Fountains of Wayne and Cheap Trick, respectively; singer Taylor Hanson is the only one whose career does not invite the same kind of respect, and even his presence adds interest, if only for the strangeness of the interaction between his background in teen pop and the backgrounds of his new bandmates.
There is no doubt, then, that Tinted Windows makes for an intriguing prospect. But the actual product has little in common with the past achievements of the bandmembers. Tinted Windows is 36 minutes of three-chord power-pop, and one is hard-pressed to find any connection to the textural diversity of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 masterwork, or to the sheer energy of Cheap Trick’s “Heaven Tonight.” To be sure, both Fountains of Wayne and Cheap Trick superficially occupied a similar power pop sphere, but a comparison with these bands only serves to better illustrate this album’s deficiencies.
Tinted Windows actually opens fairly promisingly; “Kind of a Girl,” which is also the album’s first single, is a raucous, addictive ditty that despite its profligate use of “oh-whoahs” and “oh-ohs” is hooky enough to set the album up nicely. “Messing With My Head” is a little less cutesy but just as catchy. Track three, “Dead Serious”, is the album’s high point, with a pretty verse melody and sing-along chorus.
But “Dead Serious” is most important for its lyrical tone of exaggerated earnestness. “I’m serious / Dead serious / And you’ve got to take me at my word / Forget what you’ve heard / Because this time all I really want to say / is that I need you everyday / Hey hey hey,” Hanson sings, in a masterful parody of the ponderous nature of pop-rock love songs. At this point, “Dead Serious” appears to be the album’s thematic core—after all, glorious silliness has always been the currency of the best power-pop. Cheap Trick were so successful in part because of how cheerful they were about their triviality, delivering the lines “I want you to want me / I need you to need me” with unabashed gusto.
Tinted Windows fail to match up to Cheap Trick in part because the rest of the album fails to maintain the melodic quality of the first three songs. Power pop sans hooks is music that has entirely lost its raison d’être, and most of the album disappoints on this count, with generic, unmemorable riffs and bland choruses. But an even more egregious failure is the lyrical descent from enjoyable silliness to ponderous platitudes. Not only would such lines as “Without love you have nothing to shoot for” do James Blunt or Chris Martin proud, they are sung not as parody but, rather, in earnest, and thus serve as the very antithesis of the ideal that Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne and “Dead Serious” stand for. Yet it is this kind of platitude that dominates much of this album.
Taylor Hanson, who as the 1990s version of Nick Jonas might be expected to be the weak link, turns out to be Tinted Windows’ most pleasant surprise. His clear tenor is a perfect fit for this kind of music, as is his skill at both soulful strength and supple falsetto. By contrast, admirers of 90s era Smashing Pumpkins are likely to be perplexed by James Iha’s new choice of genre. Schlesinger and Carlos made their careers with bands who were characterized by their wit and verve. Tinted Windows have neither. It is fortunate, then, that this is more side project than band per se, as the four members are continuing with their other projects. This well-intentioned attempt at collaboration is likely to be a forgotten one-off.