Jackson United - Western Ballads (Cover Artwork)

Jackson United

Western Ballads (2005)


Chances are, you're a pretty big fan of one of the bands Chris Shiflett plays or has played in over the years. Foo Fighters, No Use For A Name, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, and even the enigmatic Viva Death comprise his resumé. Under the name Jackson United, he steps up as a frontman in his own right, and lays down a bunch of really solid pop songs. Pop without the "punk" suffix attached to it, that is; Western Ballads specializes in the sort of light and bouncy rock tunes that made the 90's a fun time to grow up in. In tracks like "Fell Into" and "All The Way" I'm hearing the kinds of melodies that Weezer forgot how to make in between 1996 and 2001, combined with the mature sweetness of the first Fountains Of Wayne album or the Lemonheads at their peak. There's a good chunk of Western Ballads that's as good as anything in the 90's alternative scene.

I wouldn't say consistency is one of Jackson United's strong points, though. The really good tracks stand so far out compared to the rest of the album that a lot of it looks pretty dull. Part of the problem is Chris Shiflett's frontman persona. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but now I think I got the right word: He's too meek. It works well in the case of a nice harmony, but for the most part I want to urge him to assert himself more, especially when it comes to the quieter songs (a generalization of the back half of the album, really) there is clearly something missing.

Western Ballads is most worth owning if you were, and still are, a fan of the alternative boom. You just have to be able to appreciate the softer stuff as much as the few pop masterpieces.

[originally written for Punk International]