my shackles you won't be


Vertical Horizon


This band is a good example of what you have to gain by selling out. VH started as some generic acoustic rock band, taking cues from, I dunno, Dave Matthews or whatever. Then they sold out and turned into a modern rock band! And then they stopped sucking! Maybe I'm being a tad harsh, but that is my purpose here, isn't it?

lineup: Keith Kane and Matt Scannell (vocals, guitar); later joined by Sean Hurley (bass on Everything You Want) and Ed Toth (drums on Live Stages and EYW)

review index: Running on Ice / Live Stages / Everything You Want

missing albums: the debut There & Back Again

Running on Ice - 1995

Rating: **
Best songs: The Man Who Would Be Santa, Famous, Japan
Worst songs: Fragments, Life in the City, Sunrays and Saturdays, Goodnight My Friend


As I said...about ten seconds ago, Vertical Horizon started out as a generic acoustic band. Unfortunately, "generic" doesn't quite describe it accurately. It sounds like the dikironium cloud creature from Star Trek episode #47 "Obsession" came along and sucked all the iron from the bodies of these songs, because there ain't no energy at all. Acoustic music doesn't have to be listless and dull, y'know -- it can be insanely good like Neutral Milk Hotel, or at least poppy and uptempo like Guster. As it stands, I can hardly get through all 62 minutes of this thing without wanting to fall asleep.

For the post mart?

For the most part, there's not much to this. Keith's "Famous" / "Japan" and Matt's "The Man Who Would Be Santa" / "Answer Me" overcome the aforementioned lack of energy with either some durn good melodies or at least a neat atmosphere. But there's just way too much badness spread throughout the album (see the "worst songs" bit at the top there") for me to suggest that this is in any way good. So let's just move on to greener pastures and sunny days. Or something.

Live Stages - 1999

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: The Man Who Would Be Santa, Candyman, Great Divide, Wash Away
Worst songs: Fragments


Astute readers of CR would be quick to point out that I have a bias against live albums. This is because of one or more of the following reasons: a. the playing is sloppy, b. the songs chosen are just a runthrough of the hits, c. the band jams. badly., d. it sounds like it was recorded on a scratchy old cassette that formerly held Foreigner 4 on one side and Slayer's Reign in Blood on the other, and e. I'm just a bitter, bitter man.

Thankfully, Live Stages circumvents most of these problems: the playing is professional, they didn't have any hits yet, the jamming is restricted to one song, the recording quality is fine, and I'm not feeling especially mean today. The song selection is fairly simple: a lone song from the long-forgotten debut album, seven from the previous one, and four additional tracks that had yet to be recorded. The one song from the debut, "On the Sea", is quite a lovely song, and makes me want to pick up that album... That is, if I could find it cheap on ebay. The four unreleased things for the most part could remain that way: Matt writes a couple lonesome-sounding numbers, "It's Only Me" and "The Unchosen One", but he also manages a sweet acoustic-only thing that ends the disc. And Keith does a jittery thing called "The Ride".

Forget that, though. Skip over to the Running on Ice tracks, because they're much much better here: gone is the listless, energy-sapped production of that thing, and in its place is a sprightly bunch of polite rock music (except for "Fragments", which still sucks). Oh, okay, there's also that one thing called "Wash Away". Keith tries to come up with some of the dreaded social commentary in the lyrics, but we can ignore that because his last name's not, er, Kowalczyk. This is where all that jamming crap happens, and for once it's not just a bunch of tuneless noodlery. It's almost angry! Who would've expected it from these nice boys?

And that's about it. For once a live album that doesn't make me want to gouge my lower intestines out with a rusty spatula, or at least throw my record player out the door in disgust. I thank you for your time, Vertical Horizon, and I'm sorry that that one other album of yours sucked.





Everything You Want - 1999

Rating: ***
Best songs: Shackled, We Are, Finding Me
Worst songs: All of You, Miracle


As prophecied by my previous review, Vertical Horizon decided to go the way of the Big Sellout. Because Matt has a more accessible (read: generic) singing voice, and is the bald one, he got to take the reins in his iron fist. As such, he wrote 10 of the 11 songs on here. This might have been a problem had he not come up with a clutch of sprightly, decent-to-good modern rock tunes. (Exceptions: "Miracle", which unwisely borrows a line from Mike + the Mechanics, and "All of You", which is the shortest song on the album but still manages to stick around for too long.)

Wisely, they decided to take the Nevermind route of putting all the hits on the first half of the album. The opener "We Are" is probably Matt's best song on the album, a driving, politely-rockin' number that never fails to make me think "well, that's a pretty good song". There's also the major maxi-hit "Everything You Want", which is okay if repetative. Unfortunately, preceding it is "You're a God", which takes the repetative chorus thing way too far. Grumble grumble. (Moblins?) The fourth and final hit -- and I swear this was at least one of the singles -- is "Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)", which I would have to rate as the second-best of the hits. No, really -- I heard it on the radio and everything!

Matt also wrote some non-hits which didn't suck, namely "Finding Me", which has that sweet little falsetto bit, and "Send It Up", which has a pretty neat little riff and chorus and stuff. There's also an okay ballady thing and something else which I'm just gonna skip, because stuck at the end of the album is possibly the greatest VH song ever. "Shackled" reminds us that yes, Keith is still in the band, and he's still capable of writing some freakin' great melodies. It makes the process of getting through a bunch of okay-but-generic-to-the-max modern rock gratifying, sticking this absolutely wonderful thing at the end. Good job, Keith! And as for you, baldy... I'm watching you.

Lesson for today: Never trust a bald guy.

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