Friday, March 15, 2013

The Format: Awkward Reflections and Profound Nostalgia

It was probably about 2006 or so when a friend of mine introduced me to The Format. I had just completed an academic project on nostalgia in cover bands, and I found myself regularly attending shows by a Queen tribute band called Queen for a Day. As you might guess, the person in the proverbial hot seat there was the lead singer. Freddie Mercury was arguably one of the greatest rock singers that ever lived, and his incredible prowess usually brings even the most subtle weaknesses in a vocalist into startling focus. The lead singer, Gregory Finsley, did respectable imitation. On one occasion, however, the band uttered the fateful words “we’d like to do an original,” and it was, predictably, a bit awkward.  In this singular instance, however, Finsley dropped his fa├žade and let his natural voice be heard.

The point being, my first impression of The Format was that they reminded me of Queen for a Day when their lead singer freed himself of the nostalgic idiosyncrasies of Freddie Mercury. This was certainly enough to grab my attention. I liked the album I was given, but it was on a burned CD, and because I am the way that I am, I could not take it seriously until I had my own first-generation copy. I put it on my Amazon list.

The First Single by The Format on Grooveshark

Then, predictably, it sat there for quite awhile. It even was removed and added to the list on several occasions. The recent emergence and popularity of the band Fun., however, finally forced my hand. Nate Ruess, who was the lead singer of The Format, fronts this increasingly visible and musically interesting band. Their rising popularity made me feel a little guilty about never following through on The Format when the first opportunity arose. One thing led to another and I ended up with Interventions and Lullabies under the Christmas tree this year.

I guess it’s because so much time has now elapsed, but I don’t hear the Freddie Mercury comparison quite so strongly any more. If anything, Reuss seems like a less whiney, bolder Ben Folds, and I only make such a strong point of it above as the greatest of compliments.  Although I think that Reuss could do a solid Mercury impersonation if pressed, I believe that he is quite possibly the real deal on his own.  Along with co-writer Sam Means, he crafts and delivers genuine, direct, uniquely creative power pop that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

It’s the street-level topics that The Format tackles in their lyrics that bestows Interventions and Lullabies with depth. In my book, lyrics often take a back seat to musical effectiveness, but on this album, musical effectiveness is inextricably wedded to its lyric content. Considering Reuss’ relatively young age when Interventions and Lullabies was released, his observations on life, death, music, fame, and nostalgia are intimate and often profound.

On Your Porch by The Format on Grooveshark

Because The Format were most active during the early 00s and gained more notoriety in retrospect (like another great pop band we all know and love), there is not much “vintage” video footage out there of the band playing. I did happen across a set of videos, however, that were somewhat disturbing in their familiarity. They are of The Format awkwardly playing an amazing set to virtually no one, which pretty much sums up what it was like to play in a band in that abysmal time between the record company monopoly that shattered in the late 90s and the independent artist models that bands subsist on today.

If I would have discovered Interventions and Lullabies back when it was first released in 2003, it would have complimented a couple of great underground pop albums that I had in rotation during that time.  As it is, though, nearly ten years after its release, it delivers so well on so many levels that I can't bring myself to take it out of the player. 

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