Glen Phillips

Everything in balance

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By Bill DeMain  

You know Glen Phillips as the frontman for Toad the Wet Sprocket, the '90s band that topped the charts with hits such as "All I Want" and "Walk On The Ocean." Since the band split in 1998, Phillips has made two solo albums, Albulum and Winter Pays For Summer.

As the title of his sophomore effort suggests, this is a record about balance. Phillips understands that the things that make life worth living - love, friendship, peace of mind, success - always involve struggle and heartbreak. On the country-tinged opener, "Duck and Cover," he sings: "Everybody here's got a story to tell / Everybody's been through their own hell / There's nothing too special about getting hurt / But getting over it, well, that takes work." It sets the tone for these modern love songs for grown-ups.

Themes of patience and reconciliation run through the lyrics. Take this couplet from the gorgeous ballad "True": "Your love is often unkind / bitter and blind / sometimes casually cruel / but it's true." Or this from "Easier": "I want to be a toy in your cereal box / I want to be Carter at your peace talks."

Musically, Phillips matches his mature outlook with a surplus of big, well-wrought hooks. "Finally Fading," "Thankful" and "Half-Life" all bob along on knockout choruses (ex-Jellyfish wiz Andy Sturmer provides backing vocals on a handful of tracks) while "Clear-Eyed" is an uplifting anthem, co-written with Semisonic's Dan Wilson. Producer John Fields keeps one foot in the pop past (there are plenty of Beatle-inspired moments) and one in the more aggressively modern world.  Elsewhere, popmeisters Ben Folds and Jon Brion make guest appearances, adding tasteful flourishes.

The greatest asset here of course is Phillips' singing. If voices were articles of clothing, his would be a favorite pair of blue jeans, a little worn at the knees, but comfortable and sturdy. He has the kind of confidential tone that makes it feel as though he's not just singing a song, but letting you in on something vital about his life.  Phillips, like fellow artists Neil Finn, Matthew Sweet and Aimee Mann, is carrying the torch for a kind of pop singing and songwriting that, while perhaps becoming endangered, is still very much worth preserving.  

Musician and journalist Bill DeMain writes frequently about music. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Entertainment Weekly, MOJO, and Musician.