There's a line about sex and pizza that, I think, can be applied to Joe Pernice's music: even when it's not so hot, hey, it's still sex, it's still pizza, and it's still an album by Joe Pernice. Yours, Mine, and Ours
is a fantastic album. In fact, it's one of the best things I've heard so far this year. On the other hand, I can count at least three other albums that bear the Joe Pernice stamp that are better than this.
Despite the numerous name and lineup changes over the past seven years, Pernice's songwriting has held steady. He has just about the most perfect voice in rock -- comparable to a Nick Drake or an Elliott Smith in timbre, but softer, more sugary and completely devoid of grit. His voice alone, honestly, is enough to sink his hooks into uninitiated listeners. Even more impressive is his firm grasp of song forms and structures; this is a man who has studied all the greats -- Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Lennon and McCartney, Alex Chilton, Elton John, Gram Parsons, you name it -- and has every nuance of pop-songwriting down pat.
The thing that has changed for Pernice over the years is not his skill as a songwriter, but the way he chooses to dress his songs up. If you listened to an album like the country-tinged Scud Mountain Boys' Massachusettes, then peeled away the lap steel, you'd find the same disarmingly down-and-out charm as the simple songs lurking under the orchestral sheen of the first Pernice Brothers album, Overcome By Happiness, or those starkly naked songs on the self-titled Chappaquiddick Skyline album. Pernice once said of the Scuds' breakup that he didn't enjoy working within the confines of a full band -- if you've got a piano player or a lap steel player in your band, then there's going to be a piano and a lap steel on every song. His drive to change the window dressing on his pop songs is exactly what has made his trajectory so enduring and engaging -- and this, I think, is why Yours, Mine, and Ours ultimately doesn't stick as well as some of his previous work. Simply put, it sounds too much like his last album, The World Won't End. Though there's not a dud in the track list, Yours... sounds unmistakably like a songwriter who has grown thoroughly comfortable with his skill.
Things kick off with the inspired "The Weakest Shade of Blue", which easily stands with some of the best work Pernice has ever done. The '60s charm and falsetto climax are unavoidably catchy. "Water Ban" reels things back from the shores of nostalgia and is more typical of the standard Pernice Brothers formula: melancholy lyrics of desolation and love, Pernice's soothing voice and the increasingly noticeable stamp of Peyton Pinkerton's lush guitar work. Songs like this one, "Blinded by the Stars", "Waiting for the Universe", and others highlight the best and worst of the Pernice Brothers, depending on which side you're approaching them from: If Yours is the first album you've heard by the group, the songs will floor you and most likely go down as some of your favorites. If you've been on board for one, three or seven albums now, you'll merely enjoy them as standard-issue Pernice.
Other tracks here belie Pernice's admitted fascination with the music of the '80s (he's covered New Order in the past and is currently at work on writing a novel, Meat Is Murder, based around the Smiths album of the same name). "One Foot in the Grave" recalls New Order's chiming guitars and pulsing basslines, while "Sometimes I Remember" recalls the watery jangle of the Cure. Neither track fails, but they don't exactly succeed, either. When fantastic songs like "Baby in Two" or "Number Two" pull you by the bootstraps into pop nirvana, the '80s throwbacks can't help but sound limp and a bit lackluster.
So is it good or is it bad? It's certainly not bad, that's for sure. Pernice is a gifted songwriter with an effortless knack for melody, and he has been criminally overlooked and underappreciated by the masses throughout his near-decade on the radar. Listeners who get familiar with his work will most likely become fans for life -- a man capable of albums like Massachusettes, and Overcome By Happiness deserves as much. On the offchance that you've never experienced this man's work, the good news you can go to the record store and pick up absolutely any album in the Pernice bin -- including Yours, by all means -- and have a vivid and memorable virgin experience with Pernice's music. Unlike sex, you can't fuck it up the first time...and like pizza, it will become something you can return to with ease and confidence for the rest of your life.