Like the decades immediately preceding it, the 1990s had a flourishing Pop/Rock music scene that was made even more vibrant by bands whose Guitar Pop–oriented songs dominated the radio airwaves. They were indeed the toast of the day. And among those that led the surfing waves of oozing New Wave Pop sensibilities was Gin Blossoms, whose first two major albums were certified international platinum sellers, churning hit after hit, bequeathing the scene a legacy of memorable songs that included “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out about You,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Allison Road,” “As Long as It Matters,” “Follow You Down,” and “’Til I Hear It from You.”
Formed in Tempe, Arizona, Gin Blossoms, however, broke up in 1997 despite their commercial success. Fortunately, the band reconvened in 2002 and regained their spark; though it took them four years before they got to release the then much-awaited new album, 2006’s Major Lodge Victory, scoring another successful single, “Learning the Hard Way.” The follow up came after another four years, 2010’s No Chocolate Cake, which produced the equally powerfully pensive song “Miss Disarray.”
Now, the band—comprised currently by Bill Leen (Bass), Jesse Valenzuela (Rhythm/Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals), Robin Wilson (Lead Vocals, Percussion, Harmonica, Acoustic Guitar), Scott Johnson (Lead/Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals), and Scott Hessel (Drums, Percussion)—is back with a new album on their petals!
Released on June 15, 2018, on Cleopatra Records, Gin Blossoms’ fifth, titled Mixed Reality, exudes the familiar and beloved beat and style of their trademark sound. It opens with the cool, countryside swagger of the mid-tempo track “Break.” The acceleration then slowly gains traction as “Face the Dark” plays next, whose heartrending lyrics and guitar-plucks and rolling bassline take the listener back on the road to the band’s early ’90s heyday. The energy builds up some more with the angularity and dynamics of the slightly progressive “New Mexico Trouble.”
The triumvirate of “Angels Fly,” “Here Again,” and “Still Some Room in Heaven” are certainly the album highlights; very melodic, catchy, poppy, nostalgic, dancefloor-worthy, and concert-ready, these sonic time machines will easily reside alongside the band’s classic hit singles. Another feel-good, punchy track that has Country/Folk Rock sensibilities follows next in the form of “Miranda Chicago.” The mood then turns rustic and sentimental with the slow, breezy swing of the ballad “Girl on the Side,” conjuring an image of a pensive girl quietly lying on a hammock in the backyard of an old house in a farming community.
After that sweet soul-searching, the album then returns the listener to driving mode with “Fortunate Street,” only to slow down again with the starry-eyed, melodramatic balladry of “Wonder,” which will fit a playlist of similarly reflective songs that include Cutting Crew’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Fly from Heaven,” and Howard Jones’s “Joy.”
“Shadow” is another throwback to the mighty New Miserable Experience and equally glorious Congratulations I’m Sorry, whereas “Forever Is This Night” is a joyful ride onto Gin Blossoms’ well-traveled, dusty suburban roads of old. After the short commentary skit “The JFK Shit Show,” the album then launches into the upbeat, jam-mood, clap-happy stomper “The Devil’s Daughter.” Finally, Gin Blossoms wrap-up and ribbon-lace their latest box of mixed realities with the singalong, proper ender of a song such as “Mega Pawn Kings.”
Yes, one of the beloved forerunners of Power Pop/Alternative Rock music in the ’90s and whose music was among the regular mainstays of radio airplay during that decade is again up and running, sowing sweet songs the way they always used to. Mixed Reality is certainly another bundle of blossoms that grew out of the wonderful seeds that Gin Blossoms first planted more than thirty years ago. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Mixed Reality 4 out of 5 stars.