All new male singer/songwriters want to win the Best Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album Grammy awards. They want to be John Mayer. Not the poppy pretty boy, "Your Body is a Wonderland" John Mayer, but the credible, bluesy, genre-crossing "Waiting on the World to Change" John Mayer.
Aspirations are nice to have-until artists fail miserably at achieving them.
George Stanford, with his creatively-titled EP, The EP, inflicts a sound on the listener that is successful only in creating resentment towards John Mayer and all other decent, sensitive crooners. Sometimes imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.
Stanford was not always headed down the too-oft-traveled path of a career as a brooding pop singer. He started out studying jazz at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, according to his official Web site.
He eventually did what any kid prepared to graduate school with a degree in jazz performance would do-he dropped out and joined a band. He formed a fusion-pop group, Townhall, with a few of his classmates, and they played small venues throughout Philly.
When the band broke up, Stanford took the opportunity to go it alone. He played those same coffee shops and smaller venues with his guitar, wooing his Pennsylvanians with that ever-imitable, acoustically-based charm, until Island Def Jam records picked him up. Now you can see him attempt to woo the Boston crowd with his new signed status at the Paradise on Nov. 29.
A note included in The EP, Stanford's first studio recording, warns the listener against hearing the five tracks on the disc. What is puzzling is that Stanford wrote the disclaimer. He says that the tracks are "raw," some resembling "working demos" while others are merely "rough mixes." While it is obvious that the album is a work in progress, the warning comes off as an excuse for all faults that pop up in the music. It is an opportunity for him to ask the listener to give his 2008 full-length debut shot.
Stanford had a part in almost every aspect of this disc. He wrote nearly all the songs, played all instruments except drums and produced every track except for one. And, when the album's finished, it's clear that this Philly homeboy might have stretched too far in his first recording attempt.
The lyrics are generally cliched, especially in "Heartbeat" (he can pass off the blame here-it was written by a guy named Dave Tozer). The chorus is eeriely reminiscent of the cheesy, homonymous '80s "Born in the USA" rip-off, "Heartbeats." In both cases, the lyric, "I'm just looking for a heartbeat," flat-lines at its first utterance and at its every mention during the four-minute song. That's right: not only is this guy pilfering choruses from a side project of a guy who was in Miami Vice, but he's actually making the songs worse.
Speaking of worse, the unintentionally ironic "My Own Worst Enemy" describes Stanford's love-hate relationship with music. The title is repeated ad nauseum until it is beaten into the listener's head that music is Stanford's worst enemy-and that his music is theirs. And, again, he's stealing choruses from another one-hit wonder-this time from the insufferable alternative hit from '90s talentless rock group Lit.
Stanford adds little to the soft pop genre besides his marvelous facial hair. Melodically, he does some fancy work with his guitar in his live performance of "Downriver," but the absence of other instruments reveals his limited range. His vocals try for charmingly rugged, with an almost country twang in songs like "Let's Stay Here," but it usually ends up sounding more like he's cold-ridden and Nyquil-sipping.
The one highlight is "Nikole." Inexplicably, everything comes together, creating a quality pop song. His jazz influences are spattered throughout all of The EP, but it only cohesively works in "Nikole." It has a slow and dark feel to it that builds up into something that can actually qualify as jazzy. Only in this song does the melody not obnoxiously make itself known. The piano refrains from punctuating every syllable in every lyric, finally adding to the song instead of slowly bashing it to death. His voice does not get carried away with screeching trills or notes that it cannot reach. By simply not trying, he pulls off a chill vibe that makes the song stand out from the other tracks.
In its entirety, Stanford's first effort falls short from reaching John Mayer standards. He's a pop generic brand, the Chip Mates instead of the Chips Ahoy. If he went more jazzy and laid back, like in "Nikole," he might be able to create a place for himself among the many pretty-boy pop singers already in existence. Before he releases a full CD, he should work on developing a more jazz-injected sound. Maybe there is a purpose in getting a degree in jazz performance.