TONY BENNETT: Jeremy Messersmith's 'Heart Murmurs' a high-gloss set of ornate pop
Without question, Jeremy Messersmith is one of the more notable pop craftsmen to come from Minnesota in the past decade. His way with a melody has led him in a lot of interesting directions career-wise. To wit: he’s been produced by Dan Wilson, himself a great Minnesota songwriter; he’s been on “Car Talk,” in the New York Times, and had his music on a number of television shows; and he’s opened for some guy named Barack Obama.
Messersmith’s new album, “Heart Murmurs,” is his first on Glassnote Records, who boast Childish Gambino, Mumford & Sons, Phoenix and Chvrches among their roster. It’s a high-gloss, thoroughly modern set of ornate pop.
“It’s Only Dancing” kicks off the set with Messersmith sketching a picture of young love. “Late night call, and I’m at your door,” he sings, gently, over a repeated palm-muted guitar note, “teenage tears on the kitchen floor.” Hmm. It seems like he’s singing a song either from the point of view of a teenager, or he’s writing about being in love with a teenager. Brace for impact.
“I pull you close, hold my breath / feel your heartbeat through your summer dress / shuffle our feet slowly to the stereo / and if your boyfriend suddenly appears / if your father comes home and finds us here / you and I won’t need an alibi / it’s only dancing,” Messersmith sings.
As the song unfolds, images of mirror balls at school dances and clasped hands appear — it becomes clear that the narrator is reminiscing about a former crush he never could express his true feelings for. (Whew, dodged a bullet, there.) It’s only dancing, he repeatedly says. But the listener knows better than that. Thou dost protest too much, fair Jeremy. By the time the third verse rolls around, it’s years later, he’s got on a clip-on tie, and he’s watching her get married.
It’s a good idea, but the song paints the narrator as a wimp, while the music gets all bombastic-Coldplay on us. It’s the kind of song that is destined to pop up in the final act of a romcom where the nerdy guy stands up at the wedding and professes his love for the girl about to marry the jock jerk. They run out of the chapel together, the credits roll. Tears, jerked.
This is sorta what this album is like. No doubt, Messersmith is talented. He’s got the craft down. But there is a thick layer of gossamer schmaltz on this here album, and the songs often go into Imagine Dragons-like cliché territory before exploding into overblown choruses. “When there’s nothing left to do / I will pull you close and wrap my arms around you,” sings Messersmith on “Tourniquet,” a song about how he will be the thing that stops his love’s blood flow to their severely lacerated limbs, or whatever.
The songs are stronger when Messersmith and his cohorts exercise a bit more restraint, production-wise, and when the lyrics aren’t so on-the-nose. “Bubblin’” has a terrible title, but it’s got a solo McCartney feel with Mellotrons going nuts and a lead guitar honking madly over it all.
“I Want To Be Your One-Night-Stand” is mostly voice and guitar, and what at first seems like a fairly gross proclamation of a desire to “make love” under the vacancy sign of a seedy motel (why not just do it in the room, guys?) turns out to be the role-playing fantasy of two married parents. It’s cute, and that vibe seems to suit Messersmith better than the yearning Lloyd Dobler one he gives off in the more blaringly overproduced tunes here. Even “Steve,” a brief piano-based novelty song about a guy falling in love with his best buddy, is stronger than the grandiose stuff, as the inherent sadness of the situation isn’t coupled with the audio version of the Blue Angels flying overhead.
“Heart Murmurs” is a solid collection of tunes, but the hit-or-miss nature of the performances and production makes it an album that depicts a talented songwriter in a hermetically sealed, perfection-obsessed environment that maybe doesn’t suit him so well.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artist: Jeremy Messersmith
Album: “Heart Murmurs”
Recorded in Minneapolis
Produced by: Andy Thompson
Personnel: Jeremy Messersmith (vocals, guitar, piano), numerous others
Upcoming show(s): 3:45 p.m. Saturday at Bayfront Festival Park, 350 Harbor Drive
Tickets: www.howlingmoon fest.com