Since the release of Ganging Up on the Sun in 2006, three of Guster’s band members have become fathers. This might explain why their latest release, Easy Wonderful, sounds too happy, too nice and, appropriately, too childish.
The band is known for its straightforwardness, its devotion to clear-cut melodies and its bongos. These have served Guster well, bringing a substantial college-aged fanbase.
But on Easy Wonderful, that simplicity is mixed with a few too many teaspoons of Splenda. This sounds decent at first taste; the “oohs,” “doohs” and high melodies on the first two tracks might even make listeners a fan of Guster’s newfound sweet tooth. And then you get diabetes.
There is just too much high-fructose corn syrup here. The lyrics never stray too far from the gaiety implied by the album’s title. Musically, Guster seems to occasionally resemble the Plain White T’s, and that’s never a good thing.
There are glimpses of that past Guster luster on songs like “On The Ocean,” but they are washed out by the underlying Raffi vibe. Hell, Guster practically delivers the Mufasa/Simba monologue on “This Could All Be Yours.” That is, if Mufasa’s kingdom consisted of Dairy Queens, parades and “the American-y dream.” (Dear Guster, “American” is already an adjective.)
The listener wants to take lead singer Ryan Miller’s advice on “Bad Bad World” and “Grab a hold/Take these melodies/with your hands/write a song to sing.” One would love to ride the raft of melodies that usually supports Guster’s sound, but the flood of subpar songwriting is just too strong. And besides, it’s kind of Guster’s job to write the songs to sing. Maybe that’s the problem.
More likely, however, the real problem lies with whom Miller and the gang are singing these songs to — their children. At least, more often than not, that’s what it sounds like.