It’s a dangerous thing when a band tries to be too many things at once. It’s rarely done successfully (none come readily to my mind). Too often the results are a jumbled mess that either comes off as nothing more than artistic indulgence, an attempt to cash in on whatever’s popular at the moment, or just a confusing mess. Unfortunately for Green Olive Tree, Things I Tried to Be seems comes across as a perfect example of the latter two cases.
When the chorus of “Unassisted” came around, I swore I was listening to an Alice In Chains cover band. But by the time “Pull” gets going, they’ve somehow morphed into a pop-punk group, what with those choppy guitar rhythms and hyperactive drumming. I guess “Shadows of a Dream” is the requisite ballad, but they’re back to their punk-pop sound with “Red 13.” Oh wait, I think they’re a hardcore group on “Cacophony.” At least, that’s what those metal riffs make it sound like. By the time the album is half over, I’m thoroughly confused. And guys, was that “bonus” track, with its punk-fuelled rendition of “The Emperor’s March,” really necessary? But I guess one person’s eclecticism is another’s lack of focus.
These guys are all about God, and they make no bones about it. Maybe it’s the fact that the group has its roots as worship leaders. As worship leaders, they attempted to create a sound that was, as they put it, “friendly to the youth.” In this case, it pretty much boils down to music that’s a pastiche of whatever “hard” music the kids are listening to, be it punk, post-grunge, or metalcore. That explains why the music jumps all over the place. Oh sure, it’s all pretty much loud and noisy, but there’s a big difference between punk “loud” and metal “loud,” and it’s well nigh impossible to make an about-face between the two and pull it off.
So what about the lyrics? “If these guys were worship leaders, then there’s bound to be plenty of the Word, right?” you ask. These guys are definitely passionate about trying to spread the Christian message to the kids. The lyrics sing of struggles with doubt and lack of direction (“Red 13”), and many of the phrases feel lifted from the Psalms (“No Escape”), with cries out to God for His mercy and strength (“Unassisted”).
The crème de la crème is “Enter Golgotha, Vision of Tears,” a musical passion play if you will, that tries to look at what Jesus dealt with after the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection. It’s full of dark imagery (“Demons tear my flesh/They lick my blood/They curse my name/They drag my glory through filth and mud”), but imagery like that needs music that’s equally intense, and Green Olive Tree’s stab at it just doesn’t quite reach the bar. I can see a band like Extol doing lyrics like this justice, but not this.
The band talks about dealing with many adversities, including, as they put it, “lack of encouragement from fellow Christians.” And I’m afraid it looks like they won’t be getting a lot of encouragement from this review. But when a CD is this unfocused, and so much of the music sounds like whatever’s cool on Tooth & Nail Records at the time, it’s a sure thing the review ain’t going to be glowing. An album is a total package; both words and music count. Throwing a bunch of Christian lyrics into a mediocre pop song doesn’t save it from mediocrity, and that’s the final analysis of Things I Tried to Be. In this case, they try to be too many things, and the results are not pretty.