William Repsher Full Review of:
Adam Bernstein's Album, D n A Singles
Bread. That’s what I thought while listening to Adam Bernstein’s latest album, The D n A Singles. When we were kids in the 70’s, Bread was like The Carpenters: a soft-rock band that put out catchy pop music and was perceived by critics as somehow lesser because of its commercial success. In the 80’s, we laughed at Bread. Then again, much of what we listened to in the 80’s sounds far more dated than Bread or The Carpenters at their most mediocre. We can grasp now that Bread was a top-shelf pop group that took a Beatlesque knack for unforgettable melodies and applied it to a more acoustic-based guitar/piano backing.
Adam has been at this a long time, through the early 90’s with the rollicking hippie collective All God’s Children, to various stints as side man with people like David Driver and Jonathan Coulton, and a handful of solo albums released in the 00’s whenever he could scare up the studio time and inspiration to record on his own. While each album has shown progress, The D n A Singles feels like a great leap forward. I’m reminded of George Harrison busting out on All Things Must Pass, releasing all that stored up creative energy from being a side man all those years.
He’s found a place musically where all his influences come through: Lennon, McCartney, Wilson, Rundgren, Nilsson, Chilton, Carmen, etc. I’m glad that he found money enough to hire a string section for certain songs (“Always,”) and am willing to bet he did the arrangements himself. I was surprised how seamlessly he was able to fuse Indian tabla, strings, organ and electric guitar all through “I Wanna Go with You.” My favorite track of the album, “Like the Sun Loves the Moon” rolls out like a logical follow-up to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”
Of course, music like this makes no sense to an average teenager and often goes unheard by its target audience due to the pervasive glut of the internet. It’s easy to laugh at the 70’s, but even the basest, silliest Top 40 hits had a level of talent in terms of vocals, arranging and songwriting that seems light years beyond much of what has passed for pop music since then. A lot of it might have sucked, but it sucked in ways that most musicians who followed thereafter couldn’t approach, much less replicate, in terms of simple musical talent.
And we live in a world where it’s hard for music like Adam’s to be considered nothing more than a novelty or a salute to past pop glories. This is a mistake because so much of what passes for pop rock now sounds more like background distraction for kids snapping selfies in Volkswagen and iPhone commercials. Adam’s music is no more or less “real” or “valid” than theirs … it’s just better, because he has a grasp of pop music history stretching back through the 60’s and earlier, which would be meaningless without the talent to make it his own.
It sounds good to me now, and it will sound good to me 20 years from now. He’s not going to set the world fire; I suspect he’d have a hard time bumming a match on the street he lives on in Brooklyn. He’s worked long and hard at his craft and has reached a point where his music sounds simple and smooth, the same way a Beach Boys or Beatles song would the first time you heard it. That casual familiarity is not a given and what’s missing from so much music today. Adam has it, has worked hard to get it, and it’s worth your while to listen.