For an album or song to appeal to me it has to have one (or more) of several elements: it's catchy, it's funny or clever, it's energetic, or it's touching. Alas, Rival Hearts misses on nearly every mark (with a few exceptions).
Most of the songs on the record come across as reflective modern folk songs. While there's nothing wrong with that on occasion, an entire album populated with those types of songs quickly becomes monotonous. The changes in tempo are few and far between. Robitaille's vocals are lulling and understated. The arrangements are clean to a fault. The lyrics may be meaningful to him, but his presentation of them fails to make me interested in them.
None of that means that the songs are bad. Actually, none of them can honestly be described as 'bad'. However, they aren't 'good' either. They often seem to simply exist.
Robitaille does have a few solid moments in store for us though. He does have a nice, compelling hook on "Cry (To Keep From Laughing)". The hazy "Dreams With You" has an otherworldly Nick Drake aura to it. The album's closer, "Grey To Blue", finally shows some energy.
There is definitely going to be a segment of music fans who will embrace Rival Hearts with every fibre of their being. Unfortunately, I'm just not one of them.
JF Robitaille plays The Rivoli in Toronto on August 27th.
Best tracks: "Cry (To Keep From Laughing)", "Grey To Blue"
Track listing for Rival Hearts:
- St. Catherine
- Dead Letters
- Black and White
- Dark Old Days
- Dreams With You
- Cry (To Keep From Laughing)
- Vanished Rival
- Grey To Blue