Being born in 1990, a lot of the music I listened to growing up was the ear-friendly pop-rock fare like Vertical Horizon and the Goo Goo Dolls. While the music wasn’t groundbreaking, it stuck throughout the 90s and early 2000s by virtue of being inoffensive and radio-friendly (which would be odd coming from the erstwhile Sex Maggots, but that’s what Iris does for a band’s image, I guess). While I am not particularly proud of being a fan of such genres (What would happen to my street cred?!), I can take solace in the fact that there were not a few who liked the music as well, as this genre of music was all the rage before Blink 182 started dominating the airwaves with their “punk” music, but that is a story for another day.
This would be the time an author would ask why he/she would mention such revealing factoids when the post title is “Hale- Above, Over, and Beyond (2008)”, so let’s get to the point- the new Hale album, titled Above, Over, and Beyond, owes a lot musically to the alternative rock sound that was so popular (popular alternative, uh huh) during the late 90s/early 2000s. Has Hale listened to too much of Gutterflower in between releases?
That might just be true, considering the album, especially the first segment, sounds like it was ripped from that long-gone era. Cuts like Over and Over (And Over Again) and Pitong Araw recall the more fast-paced fare that was popular then, while Sandali Na Lang and This is a Happy Song are textbook examples of the Matchbox 20-style pop-rock that had its share of fans during that time as well. This is certainly quite a departure from the more deliberate sound that permeated their previous two records, and when you compare their current release Pitong Araw, to Twighlight’s carrier Waltz, the contrast is made all the more clear. While the band has experimented with the faster pace before (Hide and Seek and Kahit Pa would be notable here), certainly few would have expected such a drastic shift of sound. The album does mostly revert to the old Hale sound in the second half of the album, though. Nevertheless, the new pop-rock sound gives the band and the album identities different from what the first two albums would provide. Shocking? Yes. Wise? Quite possibly. After all, one caveat many have with the band’s music is the tendency of it to become boring, and the new sound will at least make one pay attention to see if this is the right band he/she is listening to. And reinvention is not always a bad thing. Just ask Madonna, who has played the reinvention card for decades (and is also getting more and more disturbing by the album as she tries to maintain her sex appeal at her age. MILF, indeed. Ugh.).
As mentioned, the first act of this album sounds like a melange of popular rock music from the past. The songs are rife with decent riffs and catchy choruses, with some bouts of cheesiness thrown in for good measure. It’s easy on the ears, for the most part (thankfully, as there were not a few stinkers- say hi, Iris – during that era). The two songs that have been commercially released, Pitong Araw and Sundown, both sound good, though the featured female singer in Sundown sounds a bit too much like Kitchie Nadal for my tastes. The first two tracks on the album, Over and Over (And Over Again) and This is a Happy Song, are flawed, but passable fare that are prime examples of sound in the album. The band begins to settle down with the track Sandali Na Lang, as pace begins to slow and the mood mellows down, resulting in something one would better relate to Hale. The next song, The End, follows suit, but is coated with that pop-rock sensibility, especially the chorus. At this point though, the more traditional Hale sound starts to permeate the record, with the exception of Tama Na Ba (which kinda sorta sounds like Kahit Pa) and the ender Leap of Faith (which is a good, if archetypal, ’90s pop-rock song). Songs like Requiem and Skip the Drama show the band at their best, with the quieter, more private mood punctuated by soaring ending choruses. While the sound is not everyone’s cup of tea, the contemplative mood is very calming — in moderation, though, as continued listening does will get boring.
Being frank, the album is not going to change the status quo of the band by very much. Hale’s fans are going to pick it up even if critics trash it, and the anti-Hale crowd probably aren’t going to warm up to the band, even with (or especially because of) the new old sound that I have probably discussed to death in this post. I certainly have my problems with the album: Hagatna Bay sounds uncomfortably similar to Barbie’s Cradle (especially Shiny Red Balloon from Music from the Buffet Table), and a lot of the tracks still exhibit a combination of cheesiness, tedium, and genericness (both musically and lyrically). And the band’s music most definitely does not deserve comparison to the Pixies’ experimental rock, as PEP misguidedly labeled Hale’s as (The author is thinking of the wrong era). However the band can occasionally pen a good song (whether that is by design or due to the ability of the producer, I can’t really say), and their general sound has meritable qualities. The quiet, intense style of Hale’s better ballads can be beautiful and captivating, but when the formula is poorly executed, in can lead to uninspiring cuts that make you question whether Champ and Co. are meditating on something or just asleep. Nevertheless, Hale’s best efforts (Broken Sonnet and The Day You Said Goodnight, in my opinion) show that the formula can work. Hale is also, in my estimation, superior to their contemporaries in popular Filipino Music (otherwise known as MYX music), as they still provide better music than say, Cueshe or 6Cyclemind. This third album is flawed, but not outright awful. What does that deserve? I thought of giving it a B, but this is not Buhay-quality. Therefore: