Subdued Tracks from a Maturing DishwallaBy Akshay Patil
April 23, 2002
Dishwalla’s new album Opaline shows a far different side to the Santa Barbara based band than fans may be used to. This third album swings to the group’s softer side; it is a significant change of pace from their second album, And You Think You Know What Life’s About, which was full of alternative-sounding, guitar-music. Instead, Opaline takes on a more reflective tone; more experimental instruments enrich the music, which tends to be more vocally driven and demanding on lead singer J. R. Richards’ voice.
The album opens with the title track, “Opaline,” which immediately alerts the listener that something is different. Dishwalla’s previous two albums both begin with bold starts (“Pretty Babies” started off their debut Pet Your Friends and “Stay Awake” electrified the launch of And You Think), but “Opaline” leads in with a tranquil drum rhythm that takes the tone of a man lying on his back reminiscing about a dream. It is not what we were expecting from Dishwalla.
The second track, “Angels and Devils,” brings in the standard repertoire of instruments but the subdued sensation sticks. It is not until the third track, “Somewhere in the Middle,” that we hear the Dishwalla we’re used to: a catchy rhythm that segues into a simple, but more energetic chorus. The lads still aren’t totally rocking though, and at this point the fans are starting to get worried. “Every Little Thing” continues the trend.
At this point it becomes hard to concentrate on the music. The songs are good, but unexpected. “Every Little Thing” is actually a rather catchy tune that mellows with repeated listening. Faith in the band is restored with “When Morning Comes,” not the best song ever written by Dishwalla, but a good track reminiscent of Pet Your Friends. This is fortunate, because it allows the listener to get into the proper mindset for the next track, “Home.”
“Home” is easily the best track on Opaline. While some band members comment that it’s the best song they’ve produced yet, I wouldn’t go that far. I would agree that “Home” is one of the best songs they’ve come out with yet. Music industry willing, if Dishwalla should manage to last long enough to release a best-of album, “Home” will be on it. The song is what I was anticipating when I first heard Dishwalla was coming out with a third album. Similar in style to favorites from And You Think, “Home” is a simple but excellent song that utilizes the soaring nature of Richards’ voice well.
“Today, Tonight” returns to the mellow theme of the album; it feels like a reiteration of “Every Little Thing,” but now that we’re ready to appreciate this new side of Dishwalla, the song fails to please the ear as much as “Every Little Thing.” “Mad Life” is probably the most Dishwalla-like song on Opaline; the return of the alternative sound is refreshing and leaves us craving more. Unfortunately, the next track, “Candleburn,” disappoints by beginning with a piano intro. The rest of the album tapers out with “Nashville Skyline” and “Drawn Out”, which lack in style and seem to suggest that the group was looking for material that would neither offend nor excite the listener.
The album shows Dishwalla has grown more comfortable with their rise to national status; the band is willing to experiment and take risks with their music. Opaline reflects an increase in maturity and depth that was lacking in And You Think You Know What Life’s About. Unfortunately, what Dishwalla gained in maturity, it lost in spirit. The songs lack the spark and playfulness that made fans fall in love with them in the first place. Where’s the youthful fun of “Charlie Brown’s Parents,” the coyness of “Counting Blue Cars,” or the simple goodness of “Find Your Way Home?” In moving into a deeper musical art form, Dishwalla seems to have lost many of the qualities that made it a lovable band in the first place. All has not been lost, however, as made clear by “Home” and “Mad Life,” but it is up to the band to not let the essence of its music die in evolution.
Opaline is not a “must have” album, but it holds great promises of great music to come from a band that is close to finding its way to a sound that is both rich and addictive.