Once every so often, a work of music comes along so powerful, so original, and so masterful that it not only adds a new dimension to one’s musical experience, but also has the potential to redefine our very concept of what music is all about.
Better Than Ezra’s Paper Empire is not one of those albums, but it’s still quite good.
Like many, I first became familiar with their 90’s hit Good, which is probably still their best known work. I heard a few more songs on the radio in subsequent years, like Desperately Wanting and King of New Orleans, but it was only after a change in direction with the experimental album How Does Your Garden Grow that I started to follow them regularly.
Despite being thought of as a 90’s band by many, BTE has produced several well-received albums since 2000, including Closer, whose life was cut short by the demise of the record label, and Before the Robots, which sparked the singles A Lifetime, Our Last Night, and the Desperate Housewives-linked Juicy.
Paper Empire is more accessible than How Does Your Garden Grow, and kicks off with Absolutely Still, one of their best songs in years. Nearly all of the songs on the album are good, and there aren’t really any I’m tempted to skip while playing. At times, Paper Empire can be a bit disjointed, with energetic songs like the football anthem Hell No! and the pseudo-techno Nightclubbing flanking the mellow ballad Hey Love, but in today’s world of electronic music, you can reorder the album how you like anyway.
iTunes is probably the best source for Paper Empire, given that the Keane-esque bonus track In Between Moments is included.
While a bit more mainstream than some of their prior efforts, Paper Empire is a great listen and an impressive display of Kevin Griffin’s mature songwriting.
The video for Absolutely Still is below: