When I was in the 10th grade and making out with Emily Mann, Gin Blossoms was on the radio. During those moments when “Until I Fall Away” came glistening through the speakers and lead singer Robin Wilson’s earnest laments floated in the air, “college rock”, as it was then known, arrived. When my best friend Leaguer used to mime Wilson’s phrasing in “Hey Jealousy” (I can still hear him doing this), it was evident the Gin Blossoms had outgrown their Tempe, Arizona roots and conquered the mainstream. After the wild success of their major label debut New Miserable Experience catapulted them to the top of the heap the band returned in 1995 with Congratulations, I’m Sorry and scored another hit in “Follow You Down”. Soon after Gin Blossoms faded into obscurity band members pursued side projects.
In 2006 the band reunited for Major Lodge Victory, an album I never heard, but that received positive reviews. Its 2010 and nearly 18 years after New Miserable Experience, the band has released No Chocolate Cake. It may be quite a surprise to the record buying public (do those types still exist?) to hear that Gin Blossoms are making new music but it is a testament to the band’s internal chemistry that they are around at all. For a band that never possessed the most innovative sound, does a market still exist for the Blossom’s brand of earnest guitar based pop rock? It is likely that market is based in the same wistfulness that brings me back to those memories of Emily’s mix tape containing “Allison Road” in 1993. “Holy shit! She likes Gin Blossoms too”?!
So is No Chocolate Cake any good? Honestly, it sounds a heck of a lot like New Miserable Experience, except not as memorable. The band’s sound is almost identical to what it was in its heyday but that’s not really a terrible thing. I didn’t expect anything super adventurous. The hooks are still plaintively sung just not as often as indelible. The chord progressions and song structures are still snug and comforting and the vocal harmonies sound as if the band hasn’t aged a day. No Chocolate Cake has enough of these elements to make it worth a bit of your time.
“I Don’t Want to Lose You Now” is simply a gorgeous song that combines those gently strummed acoustic guitars and a shimmering melody sung in Wilson’s distinctive tone. Its a track that burns slowly and by the end I wanted to hear it on repeat. “Wave Bye Bye” is another solid track that has a bit more of those clean electric guitars and well placed harmonies. Lead single “Miss Disarray” suffers from the lack of memorable hook, the album’s significant downfall. “Dead or Alive on the 405”, despite its kind of cheesy title, works for me with its Buddy Holly guitars, snappy horn stabs, pop culture references, and catchy “doo doo do, doo doo dos”. All band members contribute to song writing duties but lyrics aren’t a strong suit and don’t veer too far away from the lost love/found love theme.
Occasionally, Gin Blossoms can come off as a less quirky and softer version of Fountains of Wayne, constructing accessible guitar pop for those white dudes just starting to feel something real in their lives. Or maybe that’s just when they first hit me. When it comes down to it, short of a few tracks, you are likely better off dusting off your old copy of New Miserable Experience and rediscovering what an awesome album it is. Although I am not exactly sure why, I feel warm inside when I think that a bunch of guys who first who got together 17 years ago are again making melancholic guitar pop songs with solid hooks. Must be the nostalgia for the innocence of my 1993.