February, 2008 Issue 48

"Life Is Sweeter..." CD review

By Jocelyn Mackenzie

What was the moment that you realized you weren’t cool? Mine was when I showed up to the first day of the sixth grade, really proud of my brand new brown clogs, and gorgeous blond John Graham turned to me and said right to my face, “Those are the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen.” Thankfully I had the mind to say right back to him, “Well, you’ve got the ugliest face I’ve ever seen, but you don’t hear me complaining.” My ego may have been spared, but right then I knew my place, and it was at the bottom of the ladder.

After several years of intense self-deprecation, I decided to embrace my anti-cool status by being as purposefully uncool as I could, and listening to unpopular music was one of my nerd ways. While everyone on the soccer team had tickets to Lollapalooza (which in hindsight probably would have been really awesome), my dork friends and I flocked to the Warped Tour every year to be amongst the other misfits and self-proclaimed rebels. And what was great about Warped Tour was that the music was loud and crazy and counter-culture, but still palatable to our naïve teenage sensibilities. It was pop punk - whatever that means.

Life is Sweeter… is the perfect coming of age tale of the naïve teenage pop-punk-loving nerd. Now adults, we’ve scratched our Further Seems Forever and Lit CD’s into oblivion, and are looking for something with substance to fill their void without having to schlep to Asbury Park on the hottest day in August, only to have Yoo-hoo thrown on us by some kid wearing checkered suspenders. And that’s where Jerry Cherry comes in.

Older, wiser, and seemingly not in it for the money or the fame or the chicks (well, maybe the chicks), Cherry offers up a mature, intelligent brand of that old familiar genre. Though more pop than punk, songs like “Big City Life” and “Freakshow” take the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus formula and rip it a new one by introducing subtle yet precise key and tempo changes and including guitar solos that humbly shred. David Lee Roth would “Jump” at the Jerry Lee Lewis throwback “Worst Looking Man,” with lyrics that are a direct tribute to the 1984 Van Halen classic.

A gilded horn solo that floats gracefully over its catchy hook highlights “Lancelot,” a smooth, catchy love song that you won‘t be able to get out of your head. “Slip,” “Turned Around,” and “The Meaning,” feature sophisticated string arrangements, and “Fit In” is an honest piano-based ballad reminiscent of Keane’s “Nothing in My Way,” only with more striking melodies.

It’s clear from the content of his music and the album art itself that Cherry doesn’t take himself too seriously, which can be the demise of so many talented individuals. But at times you get the sense that his self-esteem does not commensurate with his ability. Could he too be just another geek rising up from the cool-kid-fanned embers of the fire of self-doubt? Each song is full-bodied and impeccably produced, with discerning instrumentation. Sure, the lyrics are basic, and he probably says, “Hey, girl!” too much for some people’s taste (see "Worst Looking Man" again). But every word he sings is honest and accessible, and when he croons “I’ve made my decision, now I have to live with it” during “Hello, My Dear,” you really believe him. Here’s hoping that when Cherry shows up to his high school reunion and his former classmates ask him what he’s been up to, that he proudly announces in his deep, powerful voice that he’s written, recorded, and produced a solid album, all on his own.

Somewhere in the liner notes, Cherry writes, “This album may not be a smash. It may not be a hit today, tomorrow, not the next year or two. But hopefully it will hit someone’s heart.” Mission accomplished, JC, and you have yourself and John Graham to thank for that. I think he’s in jail now.