Austin’s own Plush returns with its latest album, Half of Me, a bittersweet record that tries too hard to be an emotional rollercoaster, only to end up as sappy carnival fare. Now, we’ve heard this story all too many times: Four kids out of a garage find success and derail in the process. It’s part of the American rock ‘n’ roll saga, if you will. With Plush, this derailment was the recent death of Jack St. Claire. There’s no doubt the guy’s pummeling guitar work was more than half the reason breakthrough hit “The Look” raced up the charts in an era where rock ‘n’ roll’s nearly chartless. It was urgent stuff that squabbled with a healthy dose of distortion, reverb, and chord-crunching angst. The end result just happened to generate an agreeable crossover hit.
That’s not to say his surviving sister, Hayley St. Claire, isn’t just as talented. She is, but as she protests in the album’s title track, “Without you, there’s only half of me.” One can’t fault her for being so transparent, it’s just a shame she happens to be right. Supported by faceless studio session guitarist Enzo, Hayley’s venomous pipes get lost in a sea of uninspired guitar work that falls wayside, even despite some agreeable percussion by Donnie. That’s the thing: Without Jack, Hayley really is alone, coming off as far too sentimental and with no edge. And really, she needs the edge; after all, we already have countless descendants of Avril Lavigne and Amy Lee to sift through.
It’s ironic then that she asks her lost brother again and again, “Where did you go?” It’s a question the listeners will likely ask as they struggle through the album’s one-too-many hokey tracks. Now, it’s easy to believe Hayley truly is struggling, likely professing the truth she’s scribbled in a moleskin notebook somewhere, but there’s just no chutzpah to any of it — she knows it, too. It’s all in the lyrics that aptly point to Plush’s fatal flaw: The loss of something that can’t be found. Blame it on the label, or just bad timing, or Hayley’s incessant need to be forthcoming, but Half of Me is a staggering disappointment, whose only real redeeming factor is its uncanny knack in revealing the importance of something missing. Keep looking, Hayley, but leave us out of the process.
Essential Tracks: N/A