You don’t want to read about my history with Emery just like I don’t want to read about how they changed your life way back when (soon after, you bought a sick t-shirt, I’m sure). Let’s just stick to the present, then. The merit and quality of I’m Only A Man has been hotly debated around these parts. With each new song posted more people dug a line in the sand and seemed to say, “I’m biased enough to not care,” or “Can’t wait for that new Spoken disc to drop!” We’re all familiar with Emery’s formula by now – I use that word because of how predictable the songwriting can be – the melodies dominate beginnings of songs while some unintelligible shrieking finishes out the tracks with moderately discordant riffs. Expect no different here. All we are left with is the illusion of intensity, repetitions of semi-heaviness. Why people (myself included) can look over such glaring flaws is hard to explain (I mean, catchiness can only take a person so far). On second thought, maybe we should be reminiscing.
I’m Only A Man is really a story of coulda’s and shoulda’s. Emery have seen their fanbase expand recently, and since most of the people showed up during The Question-era (and subsequent deluxe edition), we find this album leaning toward the mature and polished sound of that record. The biggest change, though, is the use of electronics. Blah. I know, to be successful these days you need beatz-like-whoa, but, and you know this if you’ve heard any of Emery’s previous work, such additions don’t match their sound. 10-minute closer, “From Crib To Coffin,” is infested with computerized Bumble Bees. This song takes the cake for the year’s most unnecessarily long runtime. I don’t need to describe it, but I will: lots of angst and acoustic guitars. “Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus,” is, I think, a joke. But it seems I skipped right over the punch line. The beatboxing segments and Depeche Mode-inspired chorus are ridiculously cliché. For all too short a time “Don’t Bore Us…” becomes a b-side from The Weak’s End. Maybe they were testing us, saying, “If you can get through this, we’ll reward you with a smidgen of chaos and energetic screaming.” But here’s the point: the song is laughably cramped and misguided. Not every idea needs to see the light of day.
Perhaps if “The Movie Song” were released months ago, the build-up to I’m Only A Manwould have been different. The environment cultivated by quick riffage and gang vocals is a perfect place for Toby Morrell’s voice to lead. He is still the best part about Emery, as his baritone, when allowed (like on Anberlin-esque “Can’t Stop The Killer” or piano ballad/cock-rock hybrid “Story About A Man With A Bad Heart”), can soar and command attention with the best of them. He is a talented frontman vocally, but the lyrics on this album are (to put it nicely) forgettable. “Rock-N-Rule” begins the album confidently with shouted vocals and clanging instrumentals. But, as everything quiets and Shelton (the “other” singer) croons over subdued and echoed guitars, the mediocrity of it all becomes evident. We hear the lines, “I guess you don’t have faith / It doesn’t matter anyway / It’s the way / It’s the way you want it,” and the word “counterintuitive” comes to mind.
The best indication of what I’m Only A Man offers may come in the first few seconds of “The Party Song,” which has a hauntingly similar riff to that of The Question’s opening song, “So Cold I Could See My Breath.” Emery have brought us more of the same. We can either accept this as we did in the past, or we can clamor for more. This is, of course, based on the presumption that I’m not the only one disappointed by I’m Only A Man. I’m not asking for wheel reinvention here, especially after seeing what the addition of synthesizers did, but maybe a little more frenzy and a lot fewer Queen impersonations will do the trick.