[sic] Magazine

The Orange Humble Band – Depressing Beauty

Assuming it’s not done just for money, what is the point of reforming a band? Unfinished business and/or creative urges? To prove you can still cut it and win over new fans? Supergroup-of-sorts The Orange Humble Band (consisting of founder Darryl Mather and a revolving cast of members and affiliates culled from Big Star, The Posies, REM and others) started out twenty years ago, pressed two cultish, country-lite LPs and then called it quits soon after in 2001.

After officially reforming in 2012, their long-awaited third LP, Depressing Beauty, is the product of an indulgent three-year mixing process that will no doubt please fans of Assorted Beauty’s sunny melodies and Humblin’ (Across America)’s strong hooks, but its 15 leisurely tracks seem stuck in the past all the same (old-school “de, de, de, doo” bridges to boot). For all the world it seems like Depressing Beauty is an album designed to please those seeking a warm sense of nostalgia only – Mather and co. perhaps included. Laidback, freewheelin’ case in point “Ain’t Tougher Than Me”, for example, is a FM heartland-rock tribute to Lou Reed as partly emanated through Bob Dylan’s nose.

Alongside Mather, multiple guests and long-timers Mitch Easter, drummer Jody Stephens and frontman Ken Stringfellow, Depressing Beauty welcomes fellow Posies co-founder and Big Star guitarist Jon Auer into the OHB family. And, of course, he fits seamlessly into the band’s lush arrangements, allowed even to include his folky “Emma Amanda” in the 60-minute running order – the only track not sung by Stringfellow, a man whose honeyed vocal occasionally strays once more into Michael Stipes-ian territory elsewhere.

Auer’s most noticeable contribution and the exotic sitar jangles of “With The Universe In My Hand” aside, however, Depressing Beauty’s safety is its downfall. Despite its tasteful piano and string arrangements it takes no risks. As such, early REM-reminiscent college-rockers like “The Girl Without A Name”, “Oughta Feel Ashamed” and “If That’s What You Want” sound like they never really left 2001, and the big vocal harmonies that bob along during the sun-dappled shuffle of “Our Beautiful Selves” are straight from the hairiest end of the 70s.

Iffier still are the bouts of drippy introspection that come to a head during “Conversations With Myself” and the slightly cheesy jangle-pop that dominates a track like “Sowannadoit”. With Depressing Beauty, The Orange Humble Band had an opportunity to re-write their story but sadly it ultimately does little to raise them above the also-rans for which history will likely barely remember them.

~Depressing Beauty gets its UK release 4th July 2015 via Citadel Records.~