by John M. Borack
A FRAGILE TOMORROW
Make Me Over
By John Borack
The fifth album by A Fragile Tomorrow finds the talented young quartet expanding their musical palette and taking another huge leap forward in terms of songwriting, production and performance. Previously hailed as a power pop act, AFT throws off the often-limited confines of that genre by imbuing the self-produced Make Me Over with some psychedelic flourishes, a bit of glam-like crunch ‘n’ stomp, a few pretty, moody (and pretty moody) atmospheric numbers, and some Beach Boys-like vocal touches (on the devastating kiss-off “Tell Me How to Feel,” where, in a stroke of plain-spoken genius, lead vocalist/songwriter Sean Kelly rhymes the title with “when the shit got real”).
The overall sound on Make Me Over is at once expansive and densely packed, with the familial harmonies of Sean Kelly and brother/drummer Dom prominent throughout. Dom Kelly’s pounding drums are another sonic treat, often taking on the feel of a lead instrument (check the gloriously catchy title track and the insistent “Siouxsie,” where D. Kelly’s impressive percussive display rubs elbows with violin, organ, lap steel and synth). The youngest Kelly brother, Brendan, adds some tasty guitar all over the place, while bassist Shaun Rhoades helps hold down the bottom end with thunderous aplomb. Again, that monster of a title track is but one showcase for his – and the entire band’s – instrumental chops.
There are still some overtly poppy moments, too, such as the frantic “Hit Parade,” an indictment of shallow, “hey-let’s-have-a-hit-and-make-a-million-dollars” acts (“All my dignity’s gone/bullshit chord change/please make way for the hit parade”), as well as the harmony-filled “Can’t You Hear Me?” (For grins and giggles, they also throw in a lyrical nod to power pop titans Big Star at the end of “Kissing Games.”)
The 13-song disc closes with a cover of Richard and Mimi Farina’s folk classic “One Way Ticket,” where AFT enlisted Mimi Farina’s sister Joan Baez to add some vocals and the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray to play the mandolin (quite wonderfully, by the way). The Kelly brothers – who are cousins of the late Richard Farina – and Rhoades pull out all the stops here, turning a simple folk song into a passionate, soulful rock number. Superb lead vocals from Sean Kelly on this one, which at times sounds not unlike a slightly more subdued “Eight Miles High”-era Byrds. It’s the perfect capper to a damned fine record.