Who knew the guy that recorded a cover of “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News would go on to make an overproduced pop rock record? About two years after the emo boy geniuses in The Early November played their oddly chipper farewell show, the band’s former frontman Ace Enders (and A Million Different People) has dropped When I Hit the Ground, his first solo full-length (I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business notwithstanding). Like TEN’s triple-disc The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path, the record is an uneven collection. Unlike Mother, however, When I Hit the Ground is only 14 songs long, so every clunker hurts a bit more.
Not that the record disappoints early on. Indeed, the double shot of “Reintroduction” and “Take the Money and Run” bears The Early November’s nervous energy with a dash of scene criticism. Lines like “You made a fortune off of me / Singing everyone around me looks the same” don’t cut too deep, bordering on mere bellyaching, but the hooks are too good to ignore. Track three, “New Guitar,” is a brief acoustic interlude almost on par with “1000 Times a Day” or “Never Coming Back.” Almost. The record starts to give off suspicious vibes with the next song, “The Only Thing I Have (The Sign).” Its 16-note dance rock feel still works, but the vocals are a little too layered, creating a distracting army of synthetic Aces.
After “The Only Thing I Have,” When I Hit the Ground never really recovers. “Where Do We Go From Here,” easily the album’s best track, gets buried beneath middling pop like “Sweeter Light” and “Bring Back Love,” or worse, power ballads like “When I Hit the Ground.” Here’s a quick shorthand for When I Hit the Ground: If the song has piano, it sucks. Enders has always been willing to explore rock’s every nook and/or cranny, but the string-n-piano half-time of “When I Hit the Ground” is overwrought and underwritten. While it’s the only legitimately annoying song on the record, most of the remainder is forgettable, which is hardly an improvement.
Getting back to “Where Do We Go From Here,” though, we see a bonafide late period rock gem from Enders. It’s epic and rocking. Enders gets to play around with various rhythms and really opens up his throat on the chorus. It’s a roller coaster of a song – here’s the big crunchy opening riff, aw but here’s the soaring chorus, oh OK here’s the chillout bridge and what the hey now we’ve got a guitar and a drum solo. Yes. Sweet Christ yes.
But the joys of “Where Do We Go From Here” are rarely recreated on the rest of When I Hit the Ground. At its best, the record is comparable to Dashboard Confessional’s Dusk and Summer, an overly slick batch of hack radio rock concealing a few true, resonant gems. At its worst, well… it’s kind of like The Fray. It’s worth mentioning that the strongest tracks tend towards The Early November’s brand of emo, so take that as you will.
I mean, reunite already, geez.