Vue - Down For Whatever (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Down For Whatever (2003)


Personality counts for a great deal in pop music, always has, always will. It's not the originality or musicality of a band that will make them important, and it certainly isn't always the songwriting that will make them hip and cutting edge. But what does make pop music credible and important is the personality of the music, for it is the personality that is able to empower rock and roll and make it more than mere entertainment. Vue is a very attractive band of California musicians that plays attractive music which, unfortunately, only runs scene deep. On their RCA debut, "Down for Whatever," no nail was broken, no sweat was shed, and certainly no risks were taken when Rex Shelverton (vocals/guitar), Jonah Buffa (guitar/harmonica), Jeremy Bringetto (bass), Jessica Ann Graves (keyboard), and Rafael Orlin (drums) got together to write and record this album. This is as middle-of-the-road a band can get even though the elements are almost all present in this band. Vue are talented enough musicians who play their songs very well together with some very promising instrumental moments, but the big picture is too bland to care about the few great details here and there. "Down for Whatever," on the whole, comes across as a record that was put together with demographics and sales curves in mind. No song stretches outside of the comfortable pop formula and the lyrics never attempt to say anything other than many variations of the completely impotent word "thing". No opinions are expressed, no tempos are pressed, and not one musician in this band stands out among the overcrowded world of pop music. The thirteen songs on this album feel like a forty minute conversation with five people who have nothing of interest to say.

Aside from lacking much-needed intensity, Vue are proficient musicians who consistently create a nice, dark sound without sacrificing the twang of the guitars and the ping of the cymbals. The opening song "She's Sweet" shows some future promise, for the playing on this song is interesting and exciting, however, the vocals of Shelverton clumsily step on everything. Shelverton comes across as a mere imitation of so many styles of "rock singing" that it is borderline insulting. Forced whines, faked accents, and desperate attempts at vocal scowling is more than enough to end the mood. But the drumming is quite solid, the guitars and bass are played without error, the keyboards, well, they sound fine for the few seconds that they appear (a trend that spans the entire record), and the harmonica solo, courtesy of Buffa, is one of the rare moments on this record. But this moment is a few seconds out of three minutes, a similar theme that occurs on most of the record. It would be a victory if Vue had moments like this on every tune, but alas, most of the record is completely forgettable. There are great moments, mind you, such as the guitar hook on "Some Kids," the keyboard lick (the only real keyboard lick) on the title track "Down for Whatever," as well the way the instruments really click on "The Rest," all of which make this record somewhat listenable. But all of these are instrumental moments; not one vocal moment happens no matter how hard I wished to find one. This element of Vue kills all of the danger that could possibly be in this music, and the one ballad, "Pretty Shapes," is simply painful because of Shelverton's voice. Not all is lost on this band though, for "She's Sweet," "Do You Ever," "The Rest," and bits and pieces of "Some Kids" hint at something alive and, well, interesting on this record.

It's the lack of personality that truly sinks this recording and the cause of its shortcomings, for attitude will make a bad singer great, but the snarl has to be true. Vue has potential to clique as a band and as musicians but the potential is buried beneath the hipster swagger of "Down for Whatever". So what's in store for the future of Vue? My hope is that they buy some personality instead of a new wardrobe, because looking good only counts for so much, and photographs aren't nearly as interesting, if at all.