SECONDHAND – In the Wake
Written by John Payne
When I noticed Secondhand’s press kit claimed that the band’s sound is “reminiscent of the 90’s rock they grew up on,” I was a little worried. On one hand, this could mean their new album, In the Wake, was a creative effort inspired by some of the best bands in recent history. But for whatever reason, that line seemed to indicate something derivative and generic was more likely in store.
Indeed, there initially doesn’t seem to be much to Secondhand’s music that separates it from run-of-the mill, radio-friendly modern rock. Early tracks like “Anymore” and “Forever” recall the Dave Matthews Band and suggest the album will be safe and pleasant, but not terribly interesting. It looked as though my fears had been confirmed. Luckily, it quickly became clear that I was wrong and Secondhand have much more to offer than the average modern pop-rock band.
Much of the credit for Secondhand’s sound proving to be unique belongs to lead guitarist Derek Arnold, whose frequent evoking of the likes of the Edge and John Frusciante helps elevate the tunes well beyond Train/Vertical Horizon territory. His versatility is impressive; he contributes very funky licks to “Maybe Tomorrow,” smooth, melodic grooves reminiscent of recent Chili Peppers to “Voice Mail,” and creates a gorgeous, atmospheric wall of sound on the standout title track. There isn’t guitar playing like this on generic records.
This is not to say the other musicians don’t have great moments as well. Bassist Nick Danola’s smooth playing holds the songs together throughout the album, but it’s with the furious bass solo at the end of “Something I Can’t Hide” that really grabs your attention. Drummer Blake Arnold seems to enjoy coming up with as many different hi-hat patterns as possible and gets great results, especially on “Voice Mail.” And Jake Shimon’s vocals, never sub-par, contain an enormous amount of soul on the album’s closer, “With You.”
The only area in which Secondhand don’t fully realize their potential is in the lyrical content. The lyrics are generally passable, but also unremarkable. Some lines get recycled (“All it takes is confidence” in one song, “All you need is confidence” in another; in two others, “I can’t breathe and I can’t see” and “I can’t see I can’t breathe”). Others are slightly bewildering (“Bottled up like a can of pop”?). Occasional gems like “I’m so broke that I can’t afford to lie” save the album from being a lyrical flop, but Shimon will need to step it up in this area in the future if his band is to make the transition from being good to being great.
Nevertheless, In the Wake is a deceptively mature and progressive record, featuring songs that successfully contain both outstanding musicianship and pop sensibilities. It may not appeal to fans who have no interest in the genre whatsoever, but many listeners – let’s call them “less cynical” listeners – should be able to appreciate it for being both a pop album and a guitar player’s album.