As the entertainment industry often proves, it doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Though Joshua Radin probably would have made his way without them, it can’t have done much harm to have been chummy with actor/director Zach Braff and singer/songwriter Cary Brothers back in college. Braff in particular is much accredited for Radin’s entrance into the music scene: The NBC hit “Scrubs” is laden with his mellow tunes. A few of his ballads have made it onto “Grey’s Anatomy” as well.
On We Were Here, his major-label debut, Radin calls to mind the folky sensitivity of Paul Simon and James Taylor as much as the alternative radio variant offered by Elliott Smith to produce a sound that, while soothing, is hardly original.
The album invokes an intimate setting, but it lacks an overall intimate emotion. Though the lead track “Sundrenched World” is beautiful in orchestration, its overbearing cello drowns the vocals in typical coffeehouse-background-music fashion. The ditty-like “Star Mile” follows with a Simon and Garfunkel-like whispered harmony, which once again features a prominent cello.
The album simply lacks flair. Instead, each track continues on with a barely-audible voice, varying only in accompaniment to the acoustic guitar (a violin here, a glockenspiel there). On the whole there is very little vocal difference.
“Way down in New York town thinking about the way she left me,” Radine sings on “Everything’ll Be Alright.” “There’s a hole in my pocket that’s about her size / But I think everything is gonna be alright.”
This seems sum up the album: not overly distraught about lost love, but not overly happy about it, either.
If there’s any emotional high-point of the album, it’s on the first single, “Closer.” There are moments in the song where you could almost visualize Radin wincing as he sings – or is he just trying to hit a high note? In any case, if anything substantial could be taken from the song (or the album, for that matter), it’s that after heartbreak, “All you have to do is cry.” Had Radin taken his own advice, listeners might have been spared eight tracks full of self-deprecatory whispering about unrequited love.
“I scream that I wanna be anyone but me,” he whines on “Amy’s Song” – but Radin never rises an octave over a whisper. Instead, he continues with a soft plea that doesn’t resonate any feeling or soul.
Though a thoroughly mellow album that would sit comfortably with fans of the “Garden State” soundtrack, We Were Here never seems to go anywhere emotionally. By the 11th track the light mood and intricacies of the music leaves listeners feeling – like Radin – not supremely content, but not completely disappointed, either.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
We Were Here