The past few years have been witness to a 1990s revival as the millennials who came of age during the decade mature to adulthood (as do their finances). It’s apparent in a lot of places, from fashion to television, but also in the crop of ‘90s nostalgia tours that have graced the summer concert circuit. The Backstreet Boys are doing it. Britney Spears is doing it. Even Beyonce tapped into it at the Super Bowl when she reunited with her Destiny’s Child counterparts for a few songs. The ‘90s are back, baby, and they’re hotter than ever.
So, it would be easy to write off the Gin Blossoms’ newest album, Mixed Reality, as a similar ploy to capitalize on the nostalgia of the decade where they saw some of their biggest successes. After all, they are touring with popular ‘90s alternative rock acts Tonic and Vertical Horizon this summer. However, while certainly harkening back to the sound of their earlier albums, Mixed Reality is more than that — it recaptures what fans first came to love about the band while still standing on its own as a serious addition to the Gin Blossoms’ catalog, with singer Robin Wilson describing it as their “best work in 25 years.”
The first two songs on Mixed Reality, “Break” and “Face the Dark,” are probably the most classically reminiscent of early Gin Blossoms on the entire album — always a smart move when putting out an album after such a long stretch of time (their last was 2010’s No Chocolate Cake). Both songs instantly remind you why you liked this band while still managing to sound fresh.
The album picks up the tempo with “New Mexico Trouble,” an upbeat rock song that sounds a little Tom Petty. “Angels Fly” diverts from the vintage Gin Blossoms sound with production that harkens back to producer Don Dixon’s ‘80s power pop heritage (drums, keyboard, and guitar production especially). “Here Again” contains one of my least favorite lyrical tropes (referring to a girl as the singer’s “heroine” — whether sincere or a double entendre for something more nefarious, it’s overdone, plain and simple), but includes some great guitar work and is a really solid song regardless.
The album gets a little tired around the middle with two ballads “Girl on the Side” (though, again, as with the rest of the album, it features some really stellar guitar parts) and “Wonder.” “Fortunate Street” is fun, but a lackluster addition.
Things pick up again with “Shadow” and “Forever Is This Night,” the latter of which sounds like it could have been left on the cutting room floor of any of the band’s earlier albums. “The Devil’s Daughter” has a fantastic horn section and is just fun overall. Finally, “Mega Pawn King” takes the energy down just a notch to finish the album off, with Wilson singing about the idea of not looking back and living in the past. It’s an interesting note to end on, and perhaps a purposeful one, considering that Mixed Reality comes on the heels of the band celebrating last year’s 25th anniversary of their mega-popular New Miserable Experience, the album that gave us “Hey Jealousy,” among other hits.
One of the things the Gin Blossoms notoriously excel at are masking heavy lyrics with upbeat, driving with the windows rolled down kind of melodies. This album has all that and more; While it’s hard to recapture the magic of 25 years ago, Mixed Reality is a valiant effort. It lives up to the legacy, rather than just riding on its coattails.