Tim Mercer

Tim Mercer

When a musical style turns into a fad during your youth, there’s a good chance you’ll grow up and be a dick about anything that attempts to sound like it. So when this Gen Xer heard former Daphne frontman Tim Mercer’s new album, which sounds like many bands from the 1990s that slickly appropriated alt-rock sounds for mass consumption, I had to work through a mini midlife crisis before I could give it a fair shot. Let’s start with the positives: Mercer is an experienced melodic craftsman; Aspartame is full of sweeping, insinuating choruses. And as a guitarist, he’s better at being Billy Corgan than the man himself these days. But this is the formula Foo Fighters have traded on for decades now – grunge with the punk edges buffed down and the stadium-rock reveries cut short. Every song clocks in under five minutes, there’s a glistening hook around every corner, and lyrics like “I intend to be your Hollywood” are both memorable and nonsensical enough to appeal to the widest possible swath of “modern rock” fandom. It’s an homage to a time when my generation’s music was being sold for parts, when our wise-slacker identity was revealed as so much marketing. To someone with a different pop culture background, Aspartame could be a rewarding listen. But I’m gonna be a dick about it and paraphrase a line from an influential film of my formative years: “This one’s just not my bag, baby.”

— Joe Sweeney

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