I saw Jonah Matranga open for the Weakerthans here in Toronto about two years ago. At that point, he was still playing under his onelinedrawing moniker, and I can honestly say that he was a fairly earnest and enjoyable performer. And while he certainly seems to invoke the undeserved ire of the more cynical among us, I found him fairly personable and a decent live musician. Because he had such a short set time available to him, he even offered to play for anyone who would listen out in front of the venue. This seemed particularly kind of him and it certainly gave me the impression that he was a nice person who genuinely enjoyed playing music for people.
Of course, being a nice guy doesn't necessarily guarantee an interesting record, and no review of Gratitude would be complete without mentioning a little bit about his history. Matranga's first substantial musical endeavour was Far, an emotional rock band that seemed on the verge of a breakthrough but never saw any real mainstream success. Following that, Matranga released Thriller under the name New End Original. Joined by members of Texas Is The Reason and Chamberlain, NEO produced a solid if somewhat forgettable rock record. However, rather than continue building up the band, Jonah decided to focus on a solo project, onelinedrawing, which - to the bemusement of some - took its name from an anagram of his other band. After two records released on Jade Tree, Jonah also "broke up with himself" and formed Gratitude. The band quickly signed to Atlantic, complete with rumours of vast amounts of money and unconfirmed reports of hookers and copious amounts of blow¹.
While Matranga has at least two previous "rock" projects in his past, Gratitude is a far different band than those aforementioned. Eschewing the more morose lyrics and melodies of Far, Gratitude takes the pop-rock/punk of New End Original to a far more mainstream place. Soaring vocals combined with anthemic songwriting and perfect radio-ready production are the sole stylistic focus of Gratitude, and you can almost see the sea of lighters in outstretched hands, to say nothing of the videos which will almost definitely be placed in the middle of a large field complete with circling cameras.
The truth is that Gratitude seems like the consolation prize for those disappointed by the latest U2 and Jimmy Eat World records and consequently, doesn't really create its own niche. Hell, try listening to "This Is The Part" and tell me it wouldn't have fit on Bleed American. Similarly, the track immediately prior to that, "The Greatest Wonder," could have been on The Joshua Tree, sandwiched neatly between "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Running To Stand Still."
The biggest flaw of the record then is that there is nothing about it that really distinguishes itself from other successful releases, and while I doubt the band coldly conspired to ride the coattails of more established acts, there is still very little about Gratitude that could be said to be truly exciting. That said, none of the songs are truly bad or annoying, just lacking of a distinctive musical voice. The solid hooks and strong melodies are certainly enjoyable and I can admit that the band has the potential to make a great rock record, but so far, this collection of songs seems too much like so many others to be recommended.
¹ - Not so much unconfirmed as completely inaccurate. I made it up ok?