Mixed Reality by Gin Blossoms

Album Review: Gin Blossoms – Mixed Reality

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Gin Blossoms embrace a slightly different path on their first album in eight years as Mixed Reality (out June 15) delivers a different feel than past albums while keeping the Tempe, AZ band’s core sound intact.

The 15 song record still sounds like everyone’s favorite band from the 90s but guess what, we’re no longer in the 1990s and listening to the album makes it clear the band doesn’t want to stay in the 90s, either. You do realize the band has released more studio albums in the last 12 years than in all of that decade? Gin Blossoms first announced the new material seemingly forever ago, at least two years now, when they revealed a collaboration with producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter of R.E.M. fame.

Great choice as Mixed Reality shows the band relying on their strengths while stretching their comfort zone a bit. The band debuted some of the new songs on last year’s popular 25th anniversary tour for their smash album New Miserable Experience which Wilson introduced as their best work since that seminal record. You can see why, too, it’s actually quite different than anything they’ve ever recorded. And don’t worry your Gin Blossoms haven’t gone anywhere either as they have done a great job separating themselves from their past while at the same time incorporating the best from prior albums without totally losing their approach.

That a trombone, I hear? A flute too. No, they haven’t gone folksy just some background instrumentation to help bring some character to a few songs. Told you they try new stuff on this album. And yes, plenty on Mixed Reality offers a number of opportunities for Wilson to pass out his tambourine when they tour the album this summer.

Mixed Reality also has the Gin Blossoms experimenting with synthesizers, providing a bit more complex and definitely heavier guitar hooks, and turning up the bass some. Combine all this with Wilson’s vocals (still one of the smoothest in music today) and you have perhaps the revival of a band that has toured seemingly incessantly for 15 years on the legs of beloved songs now two decades old that still routinely receive airplay.

Mixed Reality art work

Mixed Reality starts with probably two of the top songs off the album in “Break” and “Face the Dark,” solid tracks that tap into the band’s ability to pull heart strings and get you thinking about yourself, life or whatever like how “Until I Fall Away” and “Found About You” did.  “Break” features vintage Gin Blossoms almost like saying “we’re back” with an updated sound and great back and forth play between guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scottie Johnson.  Bill Leen’s bass gives a great backing to “Face the Dark” which really pushes this song forward and offers a catchy beat to its more somber undertone along with impeccable guitar work from Valenzuela and Johnson.

The totally fun “New Mexico Trouble” starts the band’s first detour from their usual fare adopting some classic rock integrated into an up-tempo modern rock song backed by more strong guitar chords from Valenzuela and Johnson. The next three songs “Angels Fly,” “Here Again” and “Still Some Room in Heaven” show the band progressing from their 90s roots and adopting the more upbeat tones and harmonies featured on their last two albums. The great Neil Diamond would be quite proud of “Miranda Chicago” and once again Leen’s bass helps establish this song.

“Girl on the Side” relaxes the tempo a bit doting on Wilson’s stellar vocal style but hardly duplicates that softer Gin Blossoms’ sound instead bringing a more breezy pace thanks to a different arrangement through the verse section while “Fortunate Street” steps the beat back up with catchy rhythm guitars throughout. “Wonder” taps back into the band’s penchant for solemn and reflective melodies. Love that slow Twin Peaksy guitar.

“Shadow” gives drummer Scott Hessel a chance to shine on his first album with the band and now deep into the album “Forever Is This Night” finally gives a taste of the 90s bringing up memories of Congratulations I’m Sorry and most certainly offers another possible single release. So good and one of the more pop heavy songs off the album. Following with the short cut “The JFK S—t Show” perhaps the band gives a nod to Congratulations the only other album that features a “7th Inning Stretch” so to speak.

Really not sure what’s going on with “The Devils Daughter.” Yikes. Musically it’s a fun upbeat track but lyrically – totally out of character and un-Gin Blossoms like. Have to wonder who this song is actually about, probably not Keli Richards. Finally the album ends on a high note with the 60s infused “Mega Pawn King” one of a few songs off the album the band debuted on the anniversary tour which delivers a cool guitar jam to close it out.

In many respects with Mixed Reality, Gin Blossoms have redefined themselves but not necessarily completely re-made themselves (why fix what ain’t broke) but clearly have done a make-over. Don’t expect a reissue of New Miserable Experience or a repeat of the nearly forgotten No Chocolate Cake. More like a new adventure along the lines of the totally underappreciated Major Lodge Victory. Don’t worry, lots of the Gin Blossoms you’ve come to know and love exist but Mixed Reality stands apart and completely on its own but listen closely and you can hear a taste of all their albums

The casual, catchy melodies remain and they haven’t forgotten some of those forlorn arrangements or themes that made them the darlings of 90s alternative rock. Instead, Mixed Reality shows the band expanding its range while keeping what got them great intact. Considering Valenzuela said some time ago he’d be content with touring and releasing the occasional single, Gin Blossoms have recorded a solid sixth album they clearly are proud of and that perhaps indicates this isn’t the last we see of them.

Overall, Mixed Reality offers a great selection of Gin Blossoms songs featuring their classic style, contagiously fun melodies and of course those legendary melancholy tracks.

Gin Blossoms embark on a bona fide tour this summer in support of Mixed Realty so expect some heavy doses from their new accomplishment and no doubt some of your older favorites.

Grade: B+

Gin Blossoms – Mixed Realty Track List

  1. Break
  2. Face the Dark
  3. New Mexico Trouble
  4. Angels Fly
  5. Here Again
  6. Still Some Room in Heaven
  7. Miranda Chicago
  8. Girl on the Side
  9. Fortunate Street
  10. Wonder
  11. Shadow
  12. Forever is the Night
  13. The JFK S—t Show
  14. The Devil’s Daughter
  15. Mega Pawn King

Written By: AndrewT

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