Fans of guitar-driven pop rock are dancing in the streets with the release of To Whom It May Concern by Splender, the follow-up album to their 1999 debut Halfway Down the Sky. While the world has changed quite a bit in the last two years, Splender has not, returning with essentially the exact same sound as before, which is good if you like consistency or their first album, not so good if you expect a band to grow and progress. Personally, I'm ambivalent and a ding-dang proud of it!
Splender's niche is well-executed modern guitar rock with dark, cynical lyrics delivered by a powerful vocalist. As before, the melodies are plentiful and often accompanied by aggressive guitar hooks and luscious vocal harmonies. Simply put, it's an angry boy band with guitars and talent.
While no one song on this album hits as satisfyingly as "I Don't Understand" or "Yeah, Whatever" from their debut, the songs are all well written and effective. "Happier This Way" opens the album with a muscular guitar riff that segues into an upbeat chorus of denial. The radio single, "Save It For Later", while not even close to being the best track has a singable chorus, a bit of U2 feel and was most certainly picked by the most focus groups for radio-friendliness. The bridge of this song, with the lyrics "And the best part of my life / Is the worst part of your day" reveal just one example of the bright music combined with dark lyrics that gives this band their appeal. Most of the songs follow this format of darker verse combined with bright, harmony-laden chorus but two stand out. "Maybe Someday" builds and relaxes with stacks of overdriven guitars and creamy vocal harmonies, constantly dangling your feet over the edge, laughing at your fear. "No Big Deal" stands out because it's just plain different from the rest of their recorded work. Unabashedly reveling in its anger, the vocalist barks in a near rap-metal style with big, buzzing guitars vehemently searching for vengeance. Somehow through all this, catchy melodies surgically implant themselves in your ear. Such is the skill of this band.
For all its charms, To Whom It May Concern falls a bit short of the high mark set by its predecessor. There just doesn't seem to be as much breadth and the ten songs only add up to thirty-six minutes. Even at that, the production is so compressed and pushed that my ears tired of the constant assault halfway through. Don't get me wrong… the album is good, possibly very good, and my cochlea definitely likes. However, with a little growth this band can easily reach greatness and because they don't reach that here, one is left curiously disappointed.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, October 2002.