The Phantom Tollbooth

One Nation Under God
Artist: Tragedy Ann
Label: Organic Records
Length: 11 songs / 50:03

Tragedy Ann's debut was a letdown for many fans of frontman Mikee Bridges' previous outfit, Sometime Sunday. It was okay, but the positive power rock just didn't stack up to the mournful grunge they were used to. But hey, everyone has a bad day every once in awhile (and in fact, that album was rushed to be written and recorded in little more than one), and some held out hopes for the sequel.

Tragedy Ann has been anxious to show they could do better, and One Nation Under God is already here. Once again, expectations prove to be a curse. Not that there's no improvement--because there's much--but it's clear that Sometime Sunday must be left to rest in peace. It's kind of like the change from old Metallica to new Metallica. There's no going back. This is a new band, and Mikee is a different man.

This is more of the same pop post-grunge of Lesser, but with a greater amount of southern rock splashes in the form of drum fills, lead guitar licks, and harmonica. The stronger songs are very simple power chord beasts, the tones distorted but still friendly, the vocals closer to upbeat and samey Foo Fighters than melancholic and varied Pearl Jam or Nirvana.

Coming from anyone else, the basic "I Love Jesus" lyrics of One Nation Under God might come across as cliche or fake. But knowing Mikee's open struggles with sin and doubt in the ragged past of Sometime Sunday (they were called "Sometime Christian" by some), it can only bring a smile to know he's singing from a heart which has been lifted from the valley to the mountaintop.

There's still conflict with the Pharisees in "Preachin' Lies" ('you think I'm low/ No Spirit in my soul/ But it's your hands, mister, around my throat') and dropped-head pleading in "Seek" ('can you help me Jesus?/ Can you help me to breathe?/ I will only suffer when i lead'), but for the most part the lyrics are either praise & worship or love songs to his wife and daughter, straightforward and sincere. Oddly, there are no songs related to the political nature of the album title, but perhaps it's a reference to unity in Christ rather than Religious Right ideology. The last three songs are worship in sound as well as word, turning down the distortion and tempo for some typical chorus songs you might hear in any youthful modern church. And don't miss the delayed studio chatter beginning with track 33--a revisiting of the same thing done on Sometime Sunday's Drain, but not as funny or interesting.

One Nation Under God is a fine record, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still waiting for something better. Tragedy Ann just doesn't seem to have pulled it together yet. The cowboy rock elements are too sparse for a convincing originality to shine, the seams too obvious where they've been sewn into the main sound. Also, Mikee still isn't tapping into his full vocal potential. Most of the time, he sounds too comfortable and laid back. Where's the intensity of old? With this band, I think the laziness means they can only get better.

Josh Spencer   (8/9/99)