Conventional wisdom says that first impressions are of the utmost importance. We’ve all heard the platitudes about making a good first impression. I don’t always value conventional wisdom or platitudes, but it’s hard to undermine their worth when an album awaiting review begins with a whimper, leading up to the discovery that conventional wisdom was right all along – first impressions matter.
When Paper Rival lead singer Jake Rolleston cracks out a shaky, unsteady note within the first ten seconds of their eponymous EP, it’s difficult to suppress the bubbling wariness. Is this a bad sign? An indication of things to come? Of course, it may be argued that great vocalists are not always essential in the making of great music. Anyone can rattle off a list of great rock stars who would never make it past the first round of American Idol. The difference lies in knowing your limits. It is puzzling that Rolleston continuously attempts to hit the high notes that he obviously can’t reach, and the faltering pitches are, at best, distracting. The recurring misses are most frequent during the airy opening ballad, “Alabama”, an otherwise promising track.
That’s one song down, and four more to go. Paper Rival still have plenty of chances for redemption. The composition of the three remaining original tracks isn’t terrible. Everything comes together well enough, and the melodies are enjoyable, but certainly not groundbreaking. For the most part, the lyrics are neither astounding nor abysmal, although there are certain cringe-inducing moments (sample refrain: “Maybe I’ve been a bad little boy”).
The last song on the album is a surprisingly inspired and touching rendition of Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing the Cage”. Paper Rival transforms Cockburn’s solid acoustic folk song into a melancholic ballad that slides into a stirring chorus, complete with the requisite handclaps. Where Cockburn’s voice is strong and gravelly, Rolleston is soft and fragile, and the contrast works well. My interest is piqued – but there are no more songs to be heard. At least it’s just barely enough to convince me that Paper Rival has potential. First impressions matter, but they aren't everything.