Todd Underwood – Extraordinary

 Todd Underwood – Extraordinary

Todd Underwood – Extraordinary – Album Review

What a difference a whole year can make eh?

Though I’ve been listening to this dude make music for more than three years now, with a record released in each of’em along the way – there was no doubt that listening to Todd’s last album Upside Down, that the guy was in a pretty devastating mood…and the songs to be found there reflected that.  No joke y’all…you put on Underwood’s brand-new record Extraordinary, and you’ll find him in a happier gear than you probably discovered in any corner of Upside Down as “You’re My Everything” kicks things off.  Lyrically, you can hear he’s still searchin’ for love and roaming the lands lookin’ for the right one – but at least he’s back in the game, know what I mean?  If you were to judge from Upside Down, you’d have thought he’d pretty much have sworn off everything to do with love for good, given the heartbreak it can clearly lead to.  There are some folks out there in this music-scene we share that you just WANT to succeed somehow…by whatever definition of success they feel is applicable to them personally – and Todd is one of’em.  By all accounts & measures, he’s ALREADY achieved a great deal throughout his time on Earth here…but after getting to know him a bit more through the interview we did on the SBS Podcast, it’s also fair to say that he’s the kind of guy that knows there’s always SOMETHING else to do.  He ain’t one to sit still…that’s what I’m getting at I suppose.  I don’t know if I was expecting to find him sounding THIS upbeat…”You’re My Everything” is pretty sunny-side-UP y’all…but I’ll fully admit it was a nice surprise too.  Underwood deserves to be happy.  He’s been through his fair share of stuff despite all the success & things he’s achieved…I suppose he’s earned himself a record on the happier side of sound.  He actually reminds me a lot of Better Than Ezra on this first track to tell ya the truth…maybe not so much for the way it sounds but for the similarities between them overall…it’s like hearing a song off of the BTE album they called Closer…the one that had you thinking, weren’t they the same band that just CRUSHED my feelings into oblivion on the albums before?  Where did all this happiness come from?  You get a bit of that feeling from Todd as this record begins…it’s a shock to the system to hear THIS much of a turnaround…but like I said, it’s certainly welcome.  Glad to have ya back here with us Mr. Underwood.

Now here’s where I tell him that I’m all about heartbreaking, devastating, and desolate material…it’s extremely rare that the happier-side of sound is gonna be what I’m personally into on the inside of anyone’s catalog.  Nothing against the people makin’ the tunes, and definitely nothing against the legions of people that love something sweet like “You’re My Everything” or “A Little Faith” to turn on up – y’all do you, and I’ll do me…and somewhere in the middle we’ll meet for a high-five and a beer or two.  Generally speaking, I feel like it’s a lot harder to ‘write happy’ in a convincing way…but that could very well just be me – Todd seems to be doin’ just fine with it.  “A Little Faith” has got good rhythm & energy to it…he’s kind of workin’ with that whisper/rasp I love so much in bands like Feeder in their more mellow moments…the guitar solo is as crisp & cool as ever…and the sentiment resonates perfectly here – summed up brilliantly in the line where Todd sings “hang on – help is on the way.”  “A Little Faith” is all about the notion that things DO get better…and that IS the truth, no matter how hard the circumstances in front of you might be.  To be honest with ya…the mere fact that this album EXISTS after the last one, is verifiable PROOF that what I’m claiming is true; those of you out there familiar with Upside Down are likely going to be as shocked as I was at the turnaround Todd’s made in what’s such a relatively short amount of time.  It’s all genuine, I assure ya…we’ll probably all look back on Upside Down as the outlier in his catalog…I very much believe that Extraordinary is a much better representation of who he WANTS to be.  And that’s the thing about art & music folks…everything we create IS a part of us, but when we get caught up in the moment…that same moment can threaten to define us forevermore thereafter – and sometimes, we’ve gotta remind people what it is we’re REALLY all about.  Extraordinary does that.

The question will naturally become…did he go TOO FAR in the opposite direction this time around?  Will the people that latched onto the melancholy of Upside Down be able to hang with the peppy vibe of this album?  That’s probably more up for debate…and I’ll leave ya to discuss that amongst yourselves.  In the case of good ol’ Better Than Ezra, I still found a ton to love about the Closer album…but it’s also fair to say that it opened the door for a bit more of a Pop vibe than they’d ever explored too, and met with fairly mixed results from the critics out there.  I’d be the last to tell ya that a song like “We’re All Right” is going to be up there with my top favorites from Underwood’s catalog perhaps…but I’d also be the first to tell ya it’s every bit as well-executed and realized as anything you’ve ever heard from him.  The man COMMITS…and it makes all the difference in the world to the quality of a song or record when we’re listening – our ears know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when Todd steps into the studio to push record, that he ain’t messing around, you follow me?  Listen to the thick-ass groove in this cut and the vibrant character it has will ya?  Between the rhythm section alone, bands like Bootsauce or the Chili Peppers would be stoked to have a track like “We’re All Right” in their catalog – we’re talkin’ about THAT level of groove to it y’all…as in supreme…super-sized…undeniable…that’s what you’ll find here.

For myself personally, “Give You My Life” is where I’m at…this would be my favorite of the first four cuts on Extraordinary for sure – Todd’s brilliantly nailed the chorus of this song, and fueled it with single-worthy sound that’s going to prove to be a formidable opponent to resist for anyone listening.  The right level of sweetness comes through here…he’s even played things correctly by using the word “scent” instead of SMELL like so many songwriters tend to…which I appreciate.  There’s never really going to be anything to fault in terms of Todd’s execution…so in a way, a lot of these reviews tend to come down to what does or doesn’t resonate & connect…and for me, every time we hit that 2:55 mark of “Give You My Life” and surge back into the hooks, I’m LOVING IT and here for the ride all over again.  Even the way this track starts out with such a confident bounce & inspired spark to it…”Give You My Life” has the vibe I wanna hear.  I’m not even 100% sure that I completely love the words if I’m being truthful with ya…I have my moments here & there with the end of the hook, even though I love the sound of it and the melody fits 100%…I was never completely sure that it was a highlight example of Todd finding the right words as opposed to the ones that work and fit the pattern, know what I mean?  It sure didn’t stop me from turning this track right up to the rafters…from the lead to the background, he puts in a noteworthy performance on the microphone in this song.  I’ll fully admit it’s hard to resist sweetness of this level & magnitude, and I’m not so inclined to try when “Give You My Life” comes on – I definitely dig this track.

Underwood’s got this gear that he gets into where he’ll really remind me of Brandon Boyd too…which certainly ain’t a bad thing at all, that dude’s an incredible singer, so the man is keepin’ good company.  It might be a looser comparison given the different vibes between Todd’s music and Brandon’s in Incubus or even in his solo tunes…but you’ll get what I’m talkin’ about when you hear Underwood sing a song like “Every Day” – the similarities are definitely there, and very much welcome.  I always marvel at how even across the board his talents seem to be…like, I always think of Todd as a guitar player primarily for some reason, but he’s got so many incredible skills that you’re bound to notice just how exceptional his bass is, or his vocals are…it could be any element of his songs, because he makes sure that the robust details in the sound are as vibrant & vivid in each instrument.  It’d be hard not to appreciate that folks!  This cut is a nice, easygoin’ summer sunshine type of tune…a reminder that each and “Every Day” we’ve got is another opportunity to do things RIGHT…to make this place even better than it was yesterday…to live, laugh, and love…as Hallmark as a track like this might seem in spots, Todd’s sings the truth here too.

“Wayback Man” – autobiographical?  Does Todd go as far back as the eight-track?  I’d have to listen to our interview on the SBS Podcast again to know for sure…I suppose it’s possible.  If I can remember seeing them around in my youth, I’d suspect he’s got them in his own history somewhere along the line as well, right?  In any event “Wayback Man” makes its own case…it don’t need me or my words – you can hear from the stylistically slick vibe in this song that Todd’s at least got the right perspective on the original times he’s referring to.  “He’s a deep cut man” – you know?  Look…here’s the facts kiddos…you might not realize it yet, but your old kickass Ipod is already the modern-day equivalent of the 8-track player…so don’t go pokin’ fun at the “Wayback Man,” because chances are, that could very well be any of YOU music-lovers out there one day.  While this track reaches back to the 70s mainly…we’re already at a point in time where the 90s when I grew up basically qualifies as “way back man” too, you dig?  So on and so forth – your time will come as well, I assure you.  “Wayback Man” is essentially the anthem for dudes like myself, presumably like Todd as well, that are on guard daily, making sure that none of the rest of you out there forget how much kickass music has existed, and how all the bands you love right now at this very moment are probably some recycled version of something we were already into way before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye.  You cute lil’ tadpoles with your ‘new’ tunes – am I right?  Say it loud & proud for the “Wayback Man” in the back man…because he probably can’t hear you anymore.  Not because he’s too OLD, but because he was too AWESOME and had his head placed perfectly next to the loud speakers and studio monitors all his life to absorb that sweet sweet sound of freakin’ Rock’n’Roll y’all.  If I’m half as cool at fifty as this “Wayback Man” that Underwood is singing about right now here on this song, believe me, I’ll be halfway there to dying a very happy man.  Not only is this song a genuine trip to listen to…but thematically speaking, “Wayback Man is also one of the largest departures you’ll find in this lineup…a lot less focused on love & much more tributary overall.

Bonus points for the keys & synthetic vibes that come into play on “Grace In The Grey,” where Todd becomes his dead-ringer for Boyd once again…or…wait…has it always been vice-versa all along?  Maybe Boyd has been emulating Underwood this entire time – what a plot twist!  Anyhow.  You get the point – the vocals are comparable in the greatest of ways…and I feel like “Wayback Man” really sets up this cut perfectly for us to take it in…”Grace In The Grey” isn’t entirely a throwback tune, but there are definitely elements of it that reach back much further than Boyd’s even been around for.  It’s a smartly written song all-in-all…”Grace In The Grey” is the audio equivalent of ‘just be kind’ or ‘have some damn patience bro’ – it’s a track that draws on this CRAZY notion that perhaps, that maybe, that there COULD be MORE to life than merely black & white!  I know…I know what you’re thinking right now – how DARE YOU Mr. Underwood – am I right?  Who does this guy think he is to try and educate/encourage the masses to think a little bit through his music?  “Grace In The Grey” is an ode to compromise in many ways…a track that is the anthem for acceptance…a song that celebrates not being such an opinionated dick, and takes a moment to point out how everything doesn’t have to be so damn serious all the time.  Killer bass-lines with great definition to them…stellar guitar solo in the mix for ya again…the right attitude – thumbs up.

Odd that I ended up making comparisons to a Better Than Ezra album called Closer earlier on, which just so happens to house their hit-song “Extra Ordinary,” ain’t it?  I assure ya, it’s basically completely coincidence, or just where my musical mind happened to send me…it was more of a comment on the sunny-side up disposition of this record in comparison to the last one released by Underwood…but yeah – even I’d admit, it’s kind of an interesting side note that caught my attention long after I’d written that into my review.  I ain’t the Nostradamus of music-reviews, I promise ya…just a bizarre coincidence, and for the most part, a nearly irrelevant comparison anyhow…Todd Underwood and Better Than Ezra really sound nothing alike, and I’d be the first to tell ya that.  Just a comment on how much of a distance there is between the sadness and the happiness to follow…that’s all I was going for, and I stand by that comparison.  Todd’s “Extraordinary” is one word…and it’s a pretty good tune.  This would be what the “Wayback Man” would call the ol’ ‘deep cut’ for sure.  If I had to hazard a guess…I’d assume that Todd has once again found love in his life…that’s just another theory of mine, but it definitely feels like there’s a lot of this record that has been made for a specific audience of one to hear…I could totally be wrong about that.  Upside Down felt a lot like that as well, but for what would be the complete polar opposite reasons.  Many of the tunes on Extraordinary, including its title-track, are essentially love-songs – the only real departure is “Wayback Man,” as I noted earlier…other than that tune, thematically, this record is centered around love…and its upbeat demeanor very much feels like it’s born from new inspiration or a new muse for Todd’s ideas.  I’ll let you all come to your own conclusions, but that’s how I’ve been listening to this album…it’s a theory that certainly explains a whole lot about the sound of what we’re hearing and potentially speaks to why it’s so different than Upside Down was…but I have no concrete evidence other than a whole lot of grey in my beard and like, a metric ton of life experience…other than that, it’s all just words…maybe I’m right, maybe I’m not…only Mr. Underwood would know for sure.  “Extraordinary” is one of those cuts I listen to and think – ‘good song’ – and then get perplexed as to how the love for it quite grows to the point where it gets a whole record named after it…but I ain’t hatin’ on it.  Do I think there are better tunes on this record?  Almost all of’em if I’m being truthful with ya – not because of quality…more to do with tangible hooks & whatnot…execution wise it’s as solid as any other…Underwood’s a relentless professional & he fully knows how to get the best out of his music.

I’ll give him this…Extraordinary, as a whole, feels just about as personal as Upside Down did, but again, for the entire opposite set of reasons…and yeah…I’m not sayin’ the happy side of Todd’s music won’t resonate with ya – hopefully it does!  “In Someone’s Eyes” would be an example of a cut that…I guess if I’m being truthful…I think looking at this track objectively in about five years down the road, it’s going to be interesting if Underwood still feels like it measures up then, or if it simply measured up to the moment now – know what I mean?  It can be extremely tough as creators and artists to stand outside of the material we make and determine whether we truly wrote it for mass consumption, or for a much more personal purpose.  “In Someone’s Eyes” feels a lot like the latter scenario this time around…which ain’t wrong to do if that’s truly the case – YOU are the ones in control over everything you create…it’s just a matter of whether or not you can take moments where some random guy like me calls it out for what it is…that’s all.  When things are personal…sometimes that’s where they’re meant to stay – or I guess, more to the point, these kinds of moments can have a harder time connecting to a broader audience outside of ourselves and the circles we run in.  Kind of like an inside joke, only entirely serious instead – make sense?  So…yeah…I mean…I’ve already admitted I’ve got a harder time connecting to songs that aren’t as melancholy…”In Someone’s Eyes” is probably the best example I can point to as to why that is…it’s not a bad tune by any stretch of the imagination – Todd doesn’t make crappy tunes – but it is in a different gear.  He’s saying a genuine thanks in this song to someone special, for making him feel special, loved, and wanted…like I said, ain’t nothing wrong with that – that’s a beautiful thing!  Is it the time to haul out the notebook and amplifiers and broadcast it to the world?  Maybe, maybe not – I’m a firm believer that some moments & things should be kept closer to the vest than others, but I can recognize that not everyone out there is like me in that regard…maybe this IS the time to write a song.  I guess what I’m trying to say, is that when we go this route, sometimes we fall in love with hooks that aren’t quite as strong as a result of trying to stretch creatively in order to include an important message.

“Are You Going My Way” has some of my favorite notes, tones, and textures – and you can quote me on that whether you’re talkin’ about the music or the vocals – there’s a whole bunch of radness goin’ on here that…I mean…I guess it’s the kind of innovative creativity I’d certainly recommend the man continues to keep on exploring is what I’m gettin’ at!  Todd’s vocals are on a complete new level in this song…he’s got a lot of the filtered harmonies that we know & love – but beyond that, the confidence in the lead sounds fantastic to begin with, and what he accomplishes in the background damn near blew my mind!  It’s like there are TEN Todds on this ONE song…or at the very least, THAT many different personalities/approaches to be found in the way he’ll sing stuff to ya after the guitar solo, which is…well – it’s probably my favorite solo of any tune on this record if I’m being real with ya.  Talk about personality!  Underwood proves it doesn’t just happen on the mic – it can be equally present in the music, and the uniqueness of the guitar solo on “Are You Going My Way” certainly proves what I’m claiming to be true.  Somewhere in the realm of “Wayback Man,” and “Grace In The Grey,” – “Are You Going My Way” dials back a bit from the overall love-themes at work on Extraordinary, and gives you a bit more to chew on in that respect…I don’t know that I’d say any one specific moment or hook is really all that defining in terms of the writing necessarily, but how this cut sounds overall is 100% memorable.  Listen to the background just prior to the three-minute mark though…Underwood LIGHTS IT UP like I don’t even think I can personally recall hearing him do in the past, and I. AM. HERE. FOR. IT!  Dude sounds like he could easily knock out a Cornell, Hagar, Cherone tune…the heaviest of vocal hitters that you’ve ever heard…Underwood audibly confirms he could easily compete with any single one of’em.

Dig the harmonics at the start of “I Won’t Say Anything” and felt like Todd kept on cruising on pretty solid ground from there, at least in terms of what we hear in the music and vocals.  Lyrically…I dunno – I feel like he’s had some real significant highlights on this record, and a few spots that reveal the potential for him to grow and evolve a bit more as an artist still.  Oddly enough, “I Won’t Say Anything” was the track where I felt like he could use the most of a tune-up words-wise…ironic in the sense that, in the hooks, he’s singing directly that “if I can’t say something, I won’t say anything” – and I’m not entirely sure about just how much he IS saying on this tune if I’m being truthful with ya.  Hooks-wise/chorus-wise – THAT part does hit home – I’ll give him that…it was more the rhyme-scheme of the verses that seemed to throw me off a little bit.  Think of it this way…on this record alone, Underwood’s got references to the wearing a crown, breaking the chains, hearts turning into stone…none of these are necessarily BAD things – but they’re kind of undeniably explored in about a million other tunes too.  So to me…for as incredibly innovative and creative as he can be within his instrumentation and music, it’s kind of like…well…it’s like we end up wanting him to live up to that same standard on a lyrical level too.  Think of it this way Toddster…we both love King’s X – what the heck is a “Marsh Mellow Field” anyway, right?  I can tell ya this – it ends up being a real standout memory…not just because of how amazing that song sounded, but for the uniqueness of the words too…the best advice I can give Underwood is to jump straight outta his comfort zone, try writing something zany, something different, something new – because that’s truly the path to saying SOMETHING…and chances are, it’ll sound much more authentic to him as a person/artist…it’ll get him that much closer to saying what HE wants to say as opposed to saying what others have kind of already said.  That’s my take on it anyhow.  Other than that, which seems like a big thing, and it’s really just a tiny observation – I love the crunch in the way the chorus hooks hits…I fully dig the Blues-inspired solo as well…there’s majorly addictive qualities in the melody – lots of positives to build on here.  You can be that uniqueness you wanna hear in the world my friend!

I felt like, in many ways, “If I Could Just” seemed to sum up this whole experience & what Extraordinary has been about pretty damn perfectly.  Sure…I’ve mentioned it’s drawn on love-song themes in a bunch of spots – but truthfully, there has been a whole lot more to it than that along the way as it morphed and changed.  By the time you reach the end, with Todd singing out “if I could just be me” in the main hooks – you kind of realize that, really, this whole record has been about self-expression…real, raw, unfiltered, and without fear.  So YES…of course, some of that draws on love…some of it draws on the artistic side of sound…some of it draws from an inspirational well of ideas like “Wayback Man” and things that have been able to reach Underwood in his own life, giving him the will, want, and desire to do all of what he’s doing today.  A strong anthem to close this record down on, “If I Could Just” pounds out the point with real confidence and resounding authority…it’s a final moment of kickassery, that puts the lightbulb on overtop of everyone’s head…and we realize, we’ve been witnessing a sort of rebirth of Todd Underwood all along…and that, even though he’s released a million records by now in his career, Extraordinary is like a reset of sorts.  He’s focused on what he wants now…and more importantly, he’s fearless when it comes to going after it…and “If I Could Just” is like his own shout at the devils out there – every bit as much of a warning to anything in his way as it is a sign of the entertainment assuredly to follow…because if he CAN just be himself, there’s no stopping this man whatsoever.  And the facts truly are, that YES, he CAN be himself…whatever version he WANTS to be!  Dude’s too damn talented when it comes right down to it…he’s the guy behind EVERYTHING you hear on these records he makes…and at his most powerful, intense, melodic, and hungry for the moment, there’s no doubt about it – his music IS Extraordinary.  Long may you run my brother – kick out the jams in this next chapter to come Todd.

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