WINTER PAYS FOR SUMMER Glen Phillips
When it comes to singers, what separates the good from the exceptional is confidentiality. The ones who pin you to your seat sound like they're sharing secrets, letting you in on something vital about their lives.
With vocal mannerisms gone berserk over the last two decades (someone needs to write a book called Melisma! The End of Subtlety), the confidential singer has become a rare bird. Glen Phillips is one of those birds.
You know him as the frontman for Toad the Wet Sprocket, the '90s band who topped the charts with hits such as "All I Want" and "Walk On The Ocean." Since the band split in 1998, Phillips has made two solo albums. His third, Winter Pays For Summer, may be his best.
On the opener, "Duck and Cover," he sings: "Everybody here's got a story to tell / Everybody's been through their own hell / There's nothing too special about getting hurt / But getting over it, well, that takes work." It sets the tone for this collection of what could be sub-titled "modern love songs for grown-ups."
Themes of patience and reconciliation run through the lyrics. Take this couplet from the gorgeous ballad "True": "Your love is often unkind / bitter and blind / sometimes casually cruel / but it's true." Or this from "Easier": "I want to be a toy in your cereal box / I want to be Carter at your peace talks."
Musically, Phillips matches his mature outlook with hooks galore. "Finally Fading," "Thankful," and "Half-Life" all bob along on knockout choruses (ex-Jellyfish wiz Andy Sturmer provides backing vocals on a handful of tracks) while "Clear-Eyed" is an uplifting anthem, co-written with Semisonic's Dan Wilson. Elsewhere, popmeisters Ben Folds and Jon Brion make guest appearances, adding tasteful flourishes.
Phillips may not recapture the kind of success he had during Toad's heyday with this record, but like fellow journeymen Neil Finn, Matthew Sweet and Aimee Mann, he's carrying the torch for a kind of pop singing and songwriting that is becoming endangered.
Be a friend to rare birds. Buy this album. Bill DeMain