Music News

Old Miserable Experience

Remember that movie Blast From the Past, where Christopher Walken barricades himself and Sissy Spacek in a backyard bunker, believing their home has been hit by a nuclear missile from Cuba? And then, after 35 years of eating Sissy's meat loaf and raising that doofus from George of the Jungle, he goes "up top" to find that everything about his world has changed?

That's pretty much the way you'd feel tuning in to a Top 40 station today if you hadn't been paying attention to pop in the 10 years it's been since the Gin Blossoms had a new album to lay on the masses. But if these guys felt the slightest pressure to retool their sound for modern sensibilities, you'll find no evidence of that in the spirited jangle of Major Lodge Victory, which hits stores on Tuesday, August 8.

"Learning the Hard Way," which doubles as opening track and leadoff single, could fit comfortably on 1992's New Miserable Experience, their multi-platinum breakthrough. And we mean that in a good way. The twin-guitar jangle, the anthemic chorus, the bittersweet harmonies, a solo not that far removed from how Mike Campbell would have done it — everything about it seems designed to make the casual listener say, "Ohmigod, did the Gin Blossoms make a new record?"

That's because, as front man Robin Wilson sees it, this will only work if it sounds like a Gin Blossoms record. "If people want to hear us again, that's what they're gonna want to hear," he says. "We certainly weren't gonna try to adapt our sound to whatever was happening now."

We're seated just outside the door to Wilson's studio, Uranus, which, conveniently enough, spills out into the legendary Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. It was here that the Gin Blossoms gathered to work on their first new recording since stepping away from the spotlight in the wake of 1996's platinum album Congratulations . . . I'm Sorry. Those sessions were scrapped, though, in favor of going to Memphis to work with producer John Hampton at Ardent Studios again.

"A no-brainer," according to Wilson, especially after the person who'd signed them to A&M back in the '90s re-signed them — but this time to Hybrid, an indie that, despite having much smaller pockets than, say, A&M, agreed to foot the bill. With Hampton on the case, they needed only 14 days to get the job done right. But recording is easy compared to the prospect of reintroducing a radio band that hasn't even tried to have a hit in 10 years.

Of course, it could be worse. As Wilson sees it, "We may not be guaranteed rotation, but just about any radio station, if we knock on their door, would let us in to do 'Hey Jealousy' acoustic and play our new single."

As to why they broke up in the first place, Wilson credits "a lot of unhappiness on the bus. How many bands can you name that made a great first record and then disappeared? It's because they hit the road for the first time and discovered that it sucks most of the time."

The breakup gave the members of the group a chance to do their own thing. Wilson formed the Gas Giants and Longshadows, and even launched a cartoon band, the Poppin' Wheelies. Jesse Valenzuela formed the Lo-Watts and wrote songs with Danny Wilde. And Scotty Johnson started playing with Refreshments front man Roger Clyne in his new band, the Peacemakers.

They still have outside projects, but as Johnson, who's been working on a solo album at Uranus, says, "I think we realize now that we can take a break from each other and it's okay. It doesn't mean we have to break up." As for Major Lodge Victory, Wilson swears his goals have gotten "meager," but he's not ruling out a comeback here.

"We've still got people in our corner," he says. "A friend of ours came out to see us recently in Cleveland and he said, 'You know, guys, there's no way you could have been in Cleveland today and not known you were playing at the House of Blues tonight. I hope you understand, you really have a second chance.' Which is a rare thing in the music industry. And we're just grateful that we do."

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Ed Masley