Jukebox the Ghost, Mediocre but Happy

Jukebox the Ghost -- "Everything Under the Sun" (Yep Roc Records) -- 3 STARS

COURTESY YEP ROC

Luckily for Jukebox the Ghost, there is a robust societal demand for music on the sunny side of pop mediocrity. What better music is there for hosting casual get-togethers, taking drives on sunny days through the countryside, or providing soundtracks for Sundance films?

It’s not that “Everything Under the Sun” is a particularly bad album, but rather that it sounds like nice background music, a comfortable amalgamation of Top 40, indie pop, and contemporary adult that you might hear in Urban Outfitters. Every song sounds like something else that’s already been done, from “Summer Sun,” which echoes Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,” to “Mistletoe,” whose melody occasionally sounds like an inverted version of The Dixie Cups’ classic, “Chapel of Love.”

Granted, it does take a good deal of skill to construct generally inoffensive music. The album’s instrumentation, a skillful blend of piano and guitar pop stylings, is friendly and smile-inducing, with chiming chords, slick production, and an overall buoyant feel. It still comes across, however, as Ben Kweller meets The Hush Sound meets The (old) Killers meets Plain White T’s, which is to say uninspired, or perhaps overly inspired.

Perhaps the album is at its best when regarded as background music, a nice blend of pleasant sounds with catchy hooks and fleeting moments of brilliance. When listening closely, however, “Everything Under the Sun” changes from irresistibly likeable to mildly grating.

It’s hard to decide which is more annoying: the lead singers’ voices or the lyrics, which alternate between trite and pretentious. “So Let Us Create,” the album’s slow-tempo ballad, is crucified by a swooping falsetto probably intended to evoke romantic nostalgia. It fails at that, but does invoke a desire to press the skip button, especially in combination with underwhelming lyrics such as “So let us create what we need each other to be / And I’ll be what you need for me to be.” Similarly, “The Stars,” which has the whiniest, most nasal vocals on the album, is unfortunately saddled with the lyric: “What if we were created to gaze at the stars up above?”

Even songs with non-irritating vocals have irritating lyrics. “The Sun” is pleasantly smooth, with no forays into whininess or falsettos, but opens with “Everything under the sun is getting burned / everything under the moon is gonna sleep.” What illuminating observations!

To be fair, not all of the songs are lyrically lacking. “Schizophrenia,” the album opener, is an interesting journey into, well, schizophrenia, and served as mainstream America’s introduction to Jukebox the Ghost when it was featured on “Letterman” on September 1. The lyric “Here they come / here they come / they’re after me” fits perfectly with the jangling opening and the overall frenzied feeling. The closing song, “Nobody,” is perhaps the cleverest song on the album, taking advantage of the many possible ways in which to deconstruct the word “nobody” with various meanings: “Oh you got a place for your body when you got nobody at all / and while you’re up in the clouds / don’t you feel like you’ve left your body / ‘cause you’ve got no body?”

In a word, “Everything Under the Sun” is mediocre. It’s not groundbreaking or terribly bad; it just sort of is, in the way that sophomore albums by previously little-known indie pop bands are. Jukebox the Ghost may just be another casualty of popularity, considering that their first album, “Let Live and Let Ghosts,” was much, much more sparklingly original than this one. If the market for mediocre pop continues to grow the way it has been, however, Jukebox the Ghost should be just fine.

—Staff writer Araba Appiagyei-Dankah can be reached at aadankah@fas.harvard.edu.

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