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splendid > reviews > 9/20/2003
Guster
Guster
Keep It Together
Reprise


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Ramona"

Buy me now
What Guster do, they do well. They're this generation's Squeeze or Del Amitri: they produce safe, non-confrontational pop music for happy people who like their pop laced with melancholy, and they do it well enough to make a living. Through serious hard work and endless touring, they have built themselves a temple in the hearts of the 18-30 year-old set by crafting hooky, saccharine rock and roll songs that, while not necessarily drifting beyond the artistic void of what writer Curtis White calls "the Middle Mind", do little to offend or obstruct.

Keep it Together starts calmly with the pleasant "Diane", and strides confidently through the aptly-titled "Careful", finally finding a groove with the solid "Amsterdam". However, "Amsterdam"'s hook also keeps Guster from being more than another Fastball or Barenaked Ladies -- there's no muscle to move the melody along, so the song's great hook lacks staying power. Bands in the middle, like Guster, either rely too heavily on aggression (see every "punk" band on TRL) or limp lifelessly and without heart (see John Mayer). Guster, though, have found the perfect middle ground, which keeps them from moving beyond, but also saves them from degenerating into Carson Daly's favorite band.

The rest of Keep It Together falls in line with the first three songs, creating an atmosphere of modest, friendly pop. Only the embarrassing "Red Oyster Cult" and the out-of-place "Jesus on the Radio" stand out in a well-oiled machine of surprising strength. These songs are forced -- Guster only triumphs when their songs are charged with lackadaisically shrugged shoulders, as if to say, "Hey, it's only rock and roll, and we're doing our best.

The striking thing about Keep it Together is how sad it is. You expect seriousness in small doses from bands like this, but Guster do happy-sounding lamentation as well as the more-respected Elliott Smith. They deserve special applause for "I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today", co-written by the over-hyped Ben Kweller, who outdoes himself here, and the achingly sweet "Ramona", which cuts to the heart of lost love across three-part harmonies and a lazy, summery back beat. It is Keep it Together's best song, and presents Guster as they are: plain, decent and eager to please.

Harmless and happy, with an underbelly of serious sadness, Keep it Together dares to be average, and comes out sounding and feeling pretty decent.



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