The internet has been a double-edged sword for bands. On the one hand, it has made it easy for any band to be heard. Even the smallest artists are able to get their music out to be heard by people in the furthest corners of the world. It has been a godsend. On the other hand, the flood of music that washes over listeners each and every day makes it nearly impossible for new bands to make the kind of impact they would have expected years ago, even when they have the industry pushing them forward. Music has become a meritocracy, where the only bands that punch through the glass ceiling are the ones who offer something to the fans that no one else can give them.
This is the case for 3 Pill Morning, a radio rock band that plays on the old formula for success, but proves that we live in a new age for musicians. Gone is the time when a band with a label push could get by simply by plugging in the preordained pieces of the puzzle. Consumers aren't willing any longer to swallow whatever the radio plays for them, which means that an entire genre of by-the-box, inoffensive music no longer has a hook by which to snare new fans. Every band has to have something that sets them apart, something that makes people pay attention, even if it's a negative trait that people have to hear to believe.
3 Pill Morning falls into the morass because they lack this essential quality. There is nothing about “Black Tie Love Affair” that stands out, nothing that will make you remember this band and this music once the record stops playing. That's not the same thing as saying the music is bad, because it isn't. It's perfectly acceptable radio rock that is a reminder of when rock music was actually able to become popular, as well as a painful illustration of why the genre has struggled to find traction.
It's become an easy joke to compare every rock band on the radio with Nickelback, but here the similarities are apparent enough to be warranted. From the slick production with the same dark, utterly flaccid guitars, to the use of rhythms instead of anything approaching a riff, the music is designed for maximum appeal. The chorus on opener “Rain” is ripped straight from a Nickelback song, so much so that I was startled by the similarity on first listen. The song is catchy, yes, but isn't memorable for the right reasons. It's most immediate feature belongs to someone else, a sign that could serve as an omen for the rest of the album.
The remaining songs unfold without developing much upon the example set by “Rain”. Every song builds atop simple bursts of guitar, none with enough personality to be memorable. Songs come and go without a riff ever showing the desire to linger in the listener's mind. That puts the focus squarely on the vocals as the only thing holding the songs together, a precarious position given the fickle nature of pop-influenced rock music.
Vocalist Jess Stebbins does his best to carry the songs to success, but can't always manage to hit his target. His voice is good enough, but like the rest of the album, sounds commonplace. His melodies are solid, the kind of forced sing-alongs that sound massive when multi-tracked, but ultimately favor scope over stickiness. Many of the choruses try so hard to be sweeping that they're stretched out to the point of falling in on themselves. Hearing the effort in the music is not an appealing trait, and robs the songs of the impact they could have.
Taking that into account, it would be a mistake to call “Black Tie Love Affair” a bad record. It's a well produced, well performed collection of radio rock songs that would have dominated the airwaves a decade ago. Now is not the time for this kind of music to succeed, and there have been so many bands playing this exact music that 3 Pill Morning is trying to be a needle in a stack of needles. No matter how sharp, there are countless other choices just as acceptable.