The smooth pop-rock of Zach Jones's Broken Record

Don't fix it
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  March 16, 2011

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SMOOTH OPERATOR Zach Jones.

For an album to be more than just a collection of songs, it's more important that the songs all feel the same than sound the same. No one wants 10 tracks all in the same style — that gets old unless everything is terrific — but there should be an aesthetic that carries through ballad and banger both.

On Zach Jones's debut Fading Flowers, I wasn't feeling it. Individually, the songs were mostly successful, but there were times where I felt I missed a set break.

Among a number of improvements, Jones's follow-up, Broken Record, even though it also has 12 songs and sits right around 45 minutes, does not have this problem. Though there's considerable variety on the disc — pop-rock, alt-country, punk-lite — it simply holds together impeccably. Even as Jones experiments with vocal deliveries, organ and keyboard tone, and arrangements, there's never a question that the songwriting style is all his.

As for that style, it runs toward early-'90s pop rock (with '60s undertones), very Smithereens at times, with a literary bent, plenty of melody, and just a bit of grime around the edges. Jones also lets his guitar out of the garage a lot more here than he did on the first record. He is a subtle and elegant player and his breaks on this album reflect that, particularly late on "This Time Around" and "No Regrets."

The former might be the best song on the album, though it has some competition. It opens with some western shuffle, an echoing guitar like a fast-paced "Going to Acapulco." It morphs into a straight head-nodder, less obviously verse-chorus-bridge than Jones has previously shown, but centered around the meme: "So it didn't work out/This time/Around/You're looking for a love to compare to the one that you've already found."

"Things Unsaid" is a nice piece of pop rock, too: "Now you're standing in the rain/You open up your umbrella/Can't believe I'm late again/Guess I'm just that type of fella." I know. Who uses the word "fella"? That's the kind of old-time vibe this record has. Sonically, it doesn't sound dated, and the music isn't necessarily not contemporary, but Jones is just old-school by temperament it would seem, a throwback.

Sometimes that throwback is to the Beatles, as on the "Blackbird"-like "There for Me," where he breaks out the acoustic. But the throwback can be to something like the Police, as on the opening "Let it Go," where sharp Copeland drums from former As Fast As mate Andrew Hodgkins spike into the headphones and Jones delivers a quick verse like Sting before layering in the harmonies in the chorus and bridge.

It's cool to see him embrace narrative as metaphor in the playful "Empathy," where a tragic figure is saddled with a gal who just can't feel his pain. Even better than the story, though, is the jagged piano that Jones sprinkles into the mix, as recorded down at Milltown Studios in New Hampshire and mixed by Jonathan Wyman (plus Adam Ayan mastering).

There's quite a bit of piano and organ here, actually, all of it played by Jones. It works again on "If It Should Fall," which pretends like it's going to be a metal ballad, with down-tuned-sounding guitar and cymbal hits in the open, before moving into something that's more traditionally rock with lots of splashy cymbal to crunch it up.

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