With the onset of the digital age and the apparent slow death of the album, it’s no surprise that the trend of “frontloading” has emerged. Presumably at the behest of the record companies and/or producers, more and more bands are releasing records with the projected “hits” all crammed at the beginning of the album, leaving the filler for the back half since no one in this digital, A.D.D.-addled world of instant gratification can stand to sit through a whole album anymore. One of the more egregious examples of this trend in recent memory was Hot Fuss, the debut album from The Killers. The first half of the album was jam packed with devastating hit after hit, and the second half… well, you tell me, because it always puts me to sleep. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I still get an immense amount of pleasure from a well-crafted album, and I have stubbornly remained faithful the the full album as a concept and an artistic statement. Just as I am not going to go to a bookstore and tear out one page of a novel, I’m not interested in downloading one mp3 at a time. A frontloaded record, in my opinion, reveals a lack of integrity as well as a lack of reverence and respect for music history and the intelligence of your audience. Unfortunately, I know I am in the minority here.
What to make, then, of Chicago electropop duo Walter Meego and their debut album, 2008’s Voyager? The first half of the record features what will probably be their most popular songs, including pleasant but non-threatening album opener “Forever” and the maddeningly repetitive “Girls” (“Everything I do, I do it for a girl, I do it for a girl, I do it for a girl”). The front of the album also features “Wanna Be A Star,” which takes familiar 90’s house synths and beats and absolutely neuters them, and “More Than I Can Say,” featuring the most whitewashed Parliament funk this side of the country club. They kind of sound like MGMT without the creativity or drugs. It’s not a promising start, as if broadcasting a message to the masses: “Hey, kids! Just download the first four tracks! As seen on TV!”
However, starting with mid-album track “Tomorrowland,” Walter Meego begin a noticeable shift that bucks the frontloading trend of their forebears. Where you may expect to find nothing but mindless filler, Walter Meego have done a little switcheroo and loaded the back of their album with their most challenging work, effectively almost creating two different albums. “Tomorrowland” boasts a recognizable Beatles influence, with the best use of a “lalalalala” refrain in at least a decade. From there, the record takes a darker turn, beginning with the eerie, out of tune piano of “Keyhole” that leads into a pounding electronic beat, a late-song classical metal guitar solo, and one of the most wicked uses of a didgeridoo in a pop song that I’ve ever heard. Follow up tracks “Lost” and “Letting Go” continue to bring the goods, both featuring ass-shaking bass runs and deep layers. The only misstep at the end of the album is “Baby Please,” which returns to the sugary blandness of the album’s first half, but then yields to the two slow, pretty come-down closers “Your Love” and “In My Dreams.”
There’s no telling why Walter Meego decided to drop their most poppy and bland songs at the front of Voyager in a bit of reverse frontloading. It almost seems as if they were forced to fulfill some sort of obligation with the first part of the album before finally getting to make the record that they really wanted. The end result is a jarring separation between the insipid bubble gum of the opening tracks and the more adventurous psychedelic dance of the second half. Had the track order been tweaked a bit, this could be a great album. As it stands, it’s a slightly confusing experience, as if listening to a band grow a pair balls on record right before your ears. But hey, it’s the digital age, and I can listen to the record in any order I want!
Walter Meego – “Forever”
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