The fact of the matter (as inconvenient as it may be) is that not every record is a work of genius and not every band is made up of earthbound gods; sometimes the band is a job for those in it, and the music they make simply makes the bandmembers and their fans happy. That claim is not made as an indictment of those aforementioned bands, the music they’ve made or their fans – it’s just a fact; like Chuck D once said (to paraphrase), making music for a living is a fun job, but it’s still a job and (by extension) sometimes the work is work. A perfect example of a band being a job can be found in The Full Counts. Made up of former members of Gumball and The Cynics, The Full Counts have a pedigree as hard-working players who got a taste of good or solid living but, eventually, the well dried up. The world moved on. Those bands might not have been ready for it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In the aftermath, some of the bandmembers got other jobs – but that didn’t mean their hands did not ache to play, from time to time. The aspirations that they had may have changed, but their desire to play did not. Nature tends to abhor a vacuum so, eventually, those members who had the itch to play found likeminded associates and began playing together. Songs eventually began to gel. The bandmembers liked the songs. Somebody mentioned that they could probably get a recurring night at one bar or another, so they tried and successfully landed the gig. Eventually, they had a fanbase and were making enough money to make a record to sell, so they did.
The steps listed above (while neatly truncated for space here) are the logical progression that many bands traverse, and The Full Counts have gone about it with the kind of common sense which often evades younger bands. They’ve gone step-by-step and have seemed to recognize that the bubble may burst at any time – and so they’ve relished in every step they’ve taken as they’ve made their way along. It’s been an entertaining arc to watch so far – and fans have enjoyed it as much as the bandmembers themselves.
How does one attempt to pick up the pieces and start over after one has already tasted some popular appeal in the music business, but also seen said first attempt go down in flames? Such is exactly the question that multi-instrumentalist Eric Vermillion 9previously of Gumball) and drummer Mike Quinlan (formerly of The Cynics) asked when they found each other. The answer, of course, is, “Take baby steps” in an attempt to regain the stature that each man once enjoyed – and that’s preciselt what First Out represents within the context of the band’s history. It works too – while there are no spectacular leaps in creative musicianship to be found here, Vermillion and Quinlan both make the most of what they’ve got, and knock out a respectable debut with the help of their friends (including Don Fleming from Gumballand Ethan Winograd of Rusted Root).
As soon as stylus sinks in and starts the A-side of First Out on its way, listeners won’t be surprised by what they hear in “Don’t Let Me Down,” but they certainly won’t feel like they’ve been disappointed either. There, listeners will have no trouble at all easing into the perfectly stable and warm, vintage college rock strains laid down by Vermillion (think less like Dinosair Jr., as the hype sticker on the album states, and more in line with the modest and tight songcraft of Lowest Of The Low or The Odds) and will find they have no trouble at all riding along with the band for the duration of the song’s play. It is standard Nineties-issue college rock and continues to hold up as such, thirty years later. The exact same thing is true of “Be With Me” (the second cut on the A-side) and the more balladesque and romantic “I Got The Time,” which closes the A-side; “The One,” which falls between those two numbers, suffers from an overly busy guitar performance from guest Don Fleming, but proves forgettable, in the end (which makes the song even worse).
While the final cut on First Out‘s A-side flounders a little, the B-side is where the album really suffers. The acoustic opener, “On My Own,” really languishes as the cello and piano performances provided by Dave Busch and Rich Hirsch turn what could have been a lugubrious start into a flat-out depressing one, and the designer Stooges rip-off, “In My Head,” barely improves the running before “Turn Me On” sinks back into overwrought balladry before drowning there with “I’ve Been Thinkin’ Babe,” which closes the proceedings with a song about a breakup (or at least that’s what I assume Vermillion is trying to work his way up to as he whines, “I’ve been thinkin’ baby, I don’t know” repeatedly, without saying much else) and leaves listeners on a fairly obvious down note.
Obviously, the performances on First Out leave a lot to be desired but, happily, the path to improvement is fairly straightforward. As imperfect as it is, there are a couple of songs on First Out which are worthwhile and, happily, those would represent the sound that The Full Counts would better develop on their second album.