I remember, quite vividly, that week back in February of aught-nine, when the Internet found out Tinted Windows was a band. The reactions were hilarious: “Tinted Windows is a band that exists, offers songs,” said Stereogum, while Pitchfork swore the Internet had been the victim of an elaborate gag. Honestly, I was surprised people weren’t even more incredulous about it. James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Taylor Hanson (Hanson), and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) in the same band sounds like a reality show on Bravo, and even more like the imaginary super-groups my friends and I used to think up during high school lunch. I’ll come up with one right now: Ryan Adams, Krist Novoselic, Kris Kristofferson, and Paul Schaffer. Band name: The Envelopes. Tell me how that band is any less conceivable than Tinted Windows.
And so this amusing, mind-boggling, ludicrous lineup of all-stars has released a self-titled debut no more than two months after the revelation of their existence. The collective reaction? Mostly silence. There are only about five reviews out there and barely a peep from the blogosphere. What happened? It’s as if the hype died before it could coalesce. Was there no one out there believing in these guys, a band with two savvy, successful vets (Iha, Schlesinger), the comical, mysterious wise man (Bun E.), and the ultimate wild card (Hanson)? I had hope—bizarre conglomerations like this either succeed or fail spectacularly—until I actually listened to the record. And I’m ready to call it: Tinted Windows, Born February 2009 – Died April 2009. They will be missed.
In fairness and consolation, the record doesn’t start falling apart until the third song. Opener and lead single “Kind of a Girl,” as many of have assessed, is at least an average pop song, something in the vein of Weezer’s “Green Album.” The second single, “Messing With My Head,” bounces with sugary goodness, its melodies seemingly implying that Schlesinger is in charge. But it’s on that third track, “Dead Serious,” that reality sets in: Taylor Hanson is singing these songs ...didn’t I want to murder this guy in 6th grade? He didn’t exactly have a golden set of pipes when he was 14, and he may even sound worse at 26: constantly creaking his voice, stressing nearly every word, and coming off as unnecessarily whiny.
From there on, it’s all downhill. “Can’t Get a Read On You” and “Without Love” both come off as Fountains of Wayne retreads that couldn’t even compete to be on the band’s b-sides/rarity record. “Back With You,” an airy ballad that sounds like an Iha changeup, would feel right at home on VH1 circa 2004—a sludgy, Michelle Branch-esque pile of nothingness. While we’re on the subject, the drop-off between James Iha circa 1997 and his Tinted Windows carnation is staggering; your run-of-the-mill high school guitarist could replicate the kind of regurgitated riffs he’s parading out there. The opening riff of Iha-penned “Cha Cha,” feels like something off of a “Guitar Instruction 102 with James Iha” video.
The lyrics, sadly, are so mind-numbingly insipid they have to be lambasted in their own paragraph. I’m all for meaningless prose when it comes to pop music, where melodies and harmonies are king and queen, but the lyrics have to at least exceed the level of “distractingly bad.” “Now that I found you/ Right across the room/You walk on over/The stars come into view,” Hanson moans on “Back With You,” while “We Got Something” offers such heartfelt sentimentalities as “Been so long/But I don't mind /We've got love so strong /It blows my mind.” I suppose those lyrics don’t offend me as much as the hackneyed “stars coming into view” line, but where’s the effort? I imagine Hanson and Iha lying around on a couch made of 20 platinum records. Hanson asks Iha, “Hmm, what rhymes with ‘I don’t mind’?” Iha shrugs, “Uh, ‘it blows my mind?’ I don’t know, man, that’s probably not very good.”
This is a disheartening and disappointing record, especially since Iha and Schlesinger rightfully command respect from casual mainstream listeners and music snobs alike. I hope these venerable vets realize that simply adding distortion to your lead guitar doesn’t constitute “power pop” at this point, that if you’re going to strip all the lovable, idiosyncratic imperfections from the mix, something else – the lyrics, the melodies, the energy – has to peel away from the lifeless drudgery to get us to sing along.