Dear Eugene Foley, J.D., Ph.D., CEO - Bodyguard Records,
Thanks for the free CD. We of the scribbling profession always appreciate good, ill-gotten loot -- it certainly takes the edge off the feeling that you should be creating something yourself rather than snarkily assessing the fruits of others. Matt Cheplic should know; according to the glossy bio you enclosed, he's a journalist himself -- probably a rock journalist, judging from his obsession with Elvis Costello. The tight, major-key melodicism is unmistakable, and while that rich, craggy baritone might be his own, it would never sound quite like this if he hadn't listened to "Alison" 5,000 times before he was 20. David Lee Roth once said Costello's critical acclaim was because rock critics root for artists who look like themselves. Lucky for Matt, he's no rumpled geek, unless that tanned stud staring out from these publicity photos is some kind of stand-in. The retro, sepia look is especially nice on the promotional postcard, which I guess you'll be stuffing into those free dispensers in the cafes, right? Well, you might not believe this, but even people who order lattés can pick up on condescension. Thus, your slogan -- Waiting for music as smart and sophisticated as you are? Spend a few minutes with Matt -- has got to go. Wouldn't you be extremely suspicious if a piece of cardboard, with which you'd never held a meaningful conversation, told you you're smart and sophisticated? Even if it were Matt, live, in person, and you were a member of the distinctive minority of college girls that seems to be your target market, you'd think he's a sleaze.
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What a shame, for Mr. Cheplic's songs aren't just bad pickup lines. The extended horticultural metaphors of "Weird Flower" and the self-skepticism of "Just Like a Grown Up" offer the tuneful quirks and gymnastic cleverness of Costello, circa '77. It's a craft that requires the stars, vocal cords and vocabulary to be perfectly aligned, and Cheplic pulls it off like a passionate acolyte, rather than an imitator. True, tracks like "Running Out of Rainbows" and "E Mail Love" smell of that other, mawkish end of the '70s -- call it James Taylor Effect. But elsewhere, Cheplic's unusual willingness to risk seeming corny is reminiscent of the assured sentimentality and blue-eyed soul of Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame. On the rockabilly-ish "It's a Wonderful Life," Cheplic's voice and imagery are breezier, outrunning mere cleverness with breathless, bittersweet understatement. "Magic Powers" is bubbling, pure pop with such lines as, "I'm just pacing, erasing all this light," that perfectly capture the excitement and hesitancy of new romance. Cheplic's arrangements -- combining economical guitar, accordion, gentle percussion and some restrained synth tinkering -- are appealing, sometimes quaint, but rarely too cute, which indicates that he's not the one responsible for those glamour shots. Oh, and one more thing: Matt Cheplic endorses AKG Microphones, Dean Markley Strings and Vaccaro Guitars. What is this, NASCAR? Get a grip! No one this talented needs so much packaged hoopla.