Reviewed by Nico
I jumped at the opportunity to review Dan Wilson’s solo release Free Life.
My immediate reaction to the CD was a strong “this isn’t Semisonic’s long-awaited fourth album”. Fans of their songs and sound would get the same gut feeling. It became a bit of a prejudice for me. Sure, Dan Wilson’s strong identifiable voice and the ease with which he travels into and out of his falsetto are present. What the songs lack, notably on first listen, is the hook. They have solid songmanship, but with a much more mellow leaning. The title track goes a little over a minute and a half before the drums kick in. The percussion on the adjacent track, Breathless, takes about a minute to kick in. This isn’t Top 40… This is Singer-Songwriter and possibly Adult Contemporary. That’s not saying those are bad things, they’re just not what I expected going in.
After repeated listening, the songs grew on me. There is a sweet simplicity to them; a bare sound to complement a bared soul. I especially enjoyed the female voice that joins in with
The best of the twelve tracks have got to be the middle duo of Come Home Angel and Sugar. With Come Home Angel, the haunting opening highlights the mood of the piece. The sheer yearning of the song is tangible. Sugar is a great example of
Fans who come to Free Life with expectations of the Semisonic sound will only find hints and shadows. This music is more reflective and thoughtful. With my idealized, red-colored headphones on, the songs were a letdown and Semisonic became an adjective. Once I let the music stand on its own however, I was pleasantly surprised and moved.