Friday, March 7, 2003
Any discussion about Reggie and the Full Effect has to begin with a disclaimer. Reggie is NOT an escaped convict with a compulsive gambling problem. Reggie does NOT have enemies that launched a "Reggie is dead" campaign, nor does he have ties to the underworld. In fact, nothing Vagrant Records tells you about Reggie is even remotely true.
Reggie's fans know that he is, in fact, James Dewees, keyboard player for the Get Up Kids and former drummer of Coalesce. Judging by the fan sites dedicated to Reggie ("They are the greatest band of all time" declares Wedgekase's Tribute to RATFE), Reggie's fans seem willing to embrace the man with or without his stick-on mustache and Spinal Tap wig.
Which is precisely why he should drop the charade and come out of the closet. Like the comedian who uses humor to cover up inner sadness, Reggie uses his fictional persona as a crutch so he doesn't have to confront his insecurities face-to-face. "At least I don't take myself seriously," he can always say to critics.
That reluctance to reveal himself is what keeps "under the tray..." from being a great album. All the other pieces are in place -- Moog-driven power hooks hell-bent on wooing "all the people who liked the first Anniversary record a lot better"; industrial strength drums with the larger-than-life Ed Rose treatment; shredding Marshall stacks and wickedly inventive drum programming. Hell, they even took the time to bring a tape recorder to a GUK show and record a drunk fan spouting off about her ex-husband and Guess Jeans.
What's missing is depth of emotion. Reggie hints at his true soul in darker songs like "Image is nothing, Lobster's are everything," but elsewhere relies on old rhyming stand-bys (such as on track 3, "feel" and "deal," or "disgrace" and "face") to plug the lyrical gaps. While those kind of couplets may be passed over by the Vagrant Army of fans, they fail to make an strong impression that could reach beyond the label's cultish following.
Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place; maybe looking for meaning in a RATFE album is llike looking for inner peace in box of McNuggets. Still, I gotta believe that Reggie -- that is, Dewees -- is capable of more ... that's why I'm critical.
Pound for pound, "Under the tray" is a very decent album. It's ridiculously catchy, professionally crafted and capable of taking MTV by storm. It won't have any trouble appeasing fans of the GUK and RATFE but it probably won't win the respect of critics either. Then again, Weird Al never got critical acclaim and what does he care?
Lift up the tray, Reggie. The world is waiting to embrace you.