A little known fact about Ours is that Distorted Lullabies is not actually their debut album. The band, led by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jimmy Gnecco, released their debut way back in 1994 called Sour, and disbanded for several years. Once Gnecco decided to get things up and running again in 1997, he would put the framework together for signing a major label record deal with Dreamworks Records and pair the band with veteran producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Chris Cornell) to create the songs that would become Distorted Lullabies. I had the opportunity a few years back to check out Gnecco’s solo acoustic shows as he tried to get Ours back up and running full time and it was evident that he clearly still has the musical chops to take his music to the next level. During that particular performance, he told several stories of the early stages of Ours and how the label thought of them as “the next possible U2-caliber band to break out into the mainstream.” While the band did not experience the commercial success of the label’s lofty expectations, this record remains one of my favorites to come out during this time period, and I vividly remember discovering the band through their music video for “Sometimes,” that received semi-frequent airplay on MTV2. While the brooding, and darker-themed elements of their music may be remembered most during this era of the band, I’ll most remember that feeling of discovering my next favorite “underappreciated” artist.
The record opens with a rolling drum beat paired with a pulsated bass line on “Fallen Souls” until Gnecco bellows, “Pray, i don’t know if it’s sacred, or not / You say, that we can fall apart at anytime / Breathe for the whole world…we can’t fight / They starve for the love…that we supply,” until he turns the track on its head with a stunning higher vocal register as he sings, “Feed from their eyes, dream you’re alive, and feel, feel / The beast flies tonight, and the world he describes / Suffer…suffer.” The sound the band was going for here was so much different than the rest of the bands I was listening to during this time, and that’s probably what made it stand out so much for me. The interesting guitar riffs paired with Gnecco’s impressive vocal range was the strength of Ours, and made for a very enjoyable listening experience.
”Drowning” features some great starts and stops to the guitar riffs, and Lillywhite’s ability to get the best performance and best sounding guitar tones to show on this album only speaks to his impressive resume as a producer. The track itself features some of Gnecco’s best lyrics on the album as he ponders, “How come everybody’s doing different then they’ve said? / Complaining that they’re living and they’d rather be dead / Always part of the / So many things that he don’t know / Baby today, today we die / Forgive us and take away the cries / Baby today, we’ll die.” The end of the song has an outro that bleeds into the sequencing of the next song, “I’m A Monster,” where Gnecco casually strays from a croon to a higher-wailed scream on certain sections of the track.
Everything seems to build up to the only released single from the record, “Sometimes.” The song features a slow-building verse that explodes into the chorus of, “So I give up on it all / I give up on the greed / I’ll give up on the ones / Who’ll give up on me,” and it felt almost as if Gnecco was speaking directly to the doubters of his musical ambitions by saying, “I’m here to be a musician for the long haul, and I’m doing this with or without you.” It makes for a powerful opening statement to a record that is filled with so many thrilling ups and downs.
”Miseryhead” is one of the more strangely composed songs on the album and rocks like a Panic! at the Disco-styled cabaret type of track that broods with a flair found on a Tim Burton-led film. The spiraling song finds Gnecco further showcasing his ultra-high octave range as he sings on the last verse, “Turn around, what’s that sound? / I’m in your head / I thought I heard him say, he’d rather be dead / Than live life apart / We’re apart / We’re apart.”
Other songs on the front half of the sequencing that continue to shine as bright as when I first heard them are “Here is the Light,” where Gnecco and his bandmates’ ability to tell a story through their music remains an underappreciated gift. On the second verse, the talented songwriter sings, “Peace in this evening, I turned on the light and everyone’s grieving / Here is the light / Oh let it shine through me / Here is the light / Oh let it burn and burn.” Gnecco’s ability to convey so much raw emotion in his performance here makes him a perfect choice for a front-man to a rock band. His personality shines as bright as ever through his vocal performance and always adds a sliver of hope to the darker-toned music.
The back half of the record opens with two slow-burners in “Medication” and “Dancing Alone” to further round out the sound Ours were going for on the album. On the latter track, the beautifully composed instrumental opening bleeds away into Gnecco’s trademark vocal croon that later explodes into a wall of sound in the chorus. It’s on the hook that Gnecco wails, “How can I have really died? / And why am I dancing, dancing alone?” It sounds like he is self-describing a dream where he ponders his own mortality and makes a conscious decision to move forward in his own life towards the light.
My personal favorite from the latter stages of the album comes in the form of “Bleed,” as Gnecco continues to impress in his ability to convey the raw emotion of love, loss and feeling alive throughout it all. Lyrics like, “If I say goodbye to love will it go away / If I say goodbye to love because its here today / And it feels so strong tonight,” bring meaning to the music backing his powerful words that continue to explore the complex parts of developing and maintaining relationships.
”Dizzy” hits most of its intended heights for a track that gradually strums along from tragedy to pure musical bliss as it unfolds. Gnecco sings on the chorus with pure vulnerability, “If we beat him down, will he stay? / He’s a little dizzy / I feel it starting to take me / Where did everybody go? / I need them now / To save me.” The ambiguity of the lyrics adds to the mystery of this band’s allure since its never 100% clear as to when Gnecco is speaking about himself or pulling from an experience. Either situation would still make for a powerful moment.
The album closes with more of cautious approach in the mellow-tinged songs of “Meet Me in the Tower” and the dreamy “As I Wander.” On the former track, Gnecco continues to explore the complexity of life and relationships as he makes several comparisons to this as he sings, “Cause I am like a big strong cable / I am like a girl so soft inside / Finally today I’m able / To put you in the ground / I’ll meet you in the ground.” The richness to the lyrics make for a cautious listening experience as we are left to interpret the dark-toned words to bring meaning and make connections to them.
Overall, this is one of the many albums from this time period that I continue to cherish the more I take the time to listen to it with fresh ears. I always discover something new that I may not have picked up on from the last listen, and the intricate web that Ours have weaved on Distorted Lullabies deserves much more recognition than it ever received when the album first hit the streets. With the right type of commercial push, this band may have been more widely known given the power of the songs that make up this record.