Rating: 2 Pulses
There are a lot of loose ends dangling from this album. Most of them unraveled from the conflicting pressures of a high concept and an end result of relatively low production value. Based on some exposition I found on the band’s Web site, the record as a whole hinges on the idea that “everyone pretends to be fine, but no one really is.” It’s a sentiment reflected in the direct statement of the title, hinted at in the obtuse lyrics, and totally lost on me.
Not that the record is without merit, there are a couple of bright spots. “Dusk” sells the Thom Yorke they’re pushing, at least enough to warrant the name drop. As a song, it’s probably their best, subdued and more mature with some horn arrangements while still capitalizing on the strong rhythm section. Although sadly, its not devoid of the over-wrought weed-eater guitar distortion (thank you Boss DS-1) that plagues a lot of these songs. It’s a little unfortunate that the first lyric delivers a scathing commentary to this effect, “From the first bell I hear, I am only grinding gears.” In a similar vein, “Daniel Mclean” starts with a nice bouncing piano, but this time the added bonus is a string arrangement. This is the bittersweet fictional biography song that warrants the Ben Folds comparisons.
But the comparison falls apart when you realize that instead of having tongue planted confidently in cheek a-la Mr. Folds, the Fire Tonight is biting down in concentration toward the execution of a concept beyond their means. Other than the few highlights of songwriting No One is Fine lacks the nuance of the influences they wear on their sleeve.
As it stands, The Fire Tonight is the slightly immature cousins of regional quasi-conglomerate Movement Nashville. Perhaps in another couple years, with another record under their belt, they might be ready for the Major Leagues.