Major General moves a fair piece between the Hüsker Dü-like urgency of opener "Jeff Penalty" to the loungey, languid closer "I'm Done Singing", hitting mid-1990s alt-rock, tipsy Billy Joel balladry, Sunday afternoon swing, and Eastern European folk-tinged rave-ups along the way. I can't quite tell if "Jeff Penalty" is a highlight or the highlight, but it's certainly a winner, spinning a note-perfect yarn of seeing the Jello Biafra-less Dead Kennedys revue. In Nicolay's tale, the crowd reluctantly accepts "Jeff Whatisname" and refuses to stop believin'. It's as good a song about navigating aging in the scene-- never selling out, after all, just turns you into the old guy in the room-- as any on the Hold Steady's Stay Positive, and if they were to slip it into a setlist sometime soon, they wouldn't miss a step.
Now, I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I don't find that helpful. It would be interesting if you were really into the band in question & cared about every detail of what they do, but when you're looking for recommendations as to what to listen to, is that what you look for? And can a review really tell you why something is any good or not?
What I look for in these reviews is the bit where they tell you what other music it sounds like - because if it's similar to something I already like then I'll probably like it, if not I probably won't. Everyone has things they like, and there's little rhyme or reason to that - at the moment I'm listening to a lot of Darker My Love, The Aliens, and 1990s Greenday, but I couldn't tell you why. I just like them. And I'll probably like stuff which sounds like them. That's what having a certain taste is, surely.
That's why Pandora, last.fm and other automatic music-recommendation engines are rapidly becoming more useful to me than reviewers. You can type a band or a song into Pandora and it'll recommend other music that sounds like it. Perfect. Except that at the moment Pandora only works if you live in the US, for copyright reasons...