Album Review: Lieutenant, ‘If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat for a Week’
Nate Mendel has friends in high places, but he’s got them for a reason. Rising to indie prominence in the early ‘90s as bassist for seminal second wave emo outfit Sunny Day Real Estate, he was recruited by Dave Grohl to fight Foo just as SDRE called it quits (for the first time) in 1995. Since then, Mendel has become the only remaining original member of Foo Fighters aside from its iconic frontman, appearing on all of their albums (except their debut) and providing a solid foundation both with his masterful bass lines and drama-free professionalism.
So when Mendel decided the time was right to finally step into the spotlight on his own under the name Lieutenant, he had no shortage of famous collaborators offering their services. Recorded at Grohl's Studio 606 and produced by Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Helmet), If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat for a Week features guest contributions by Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), Page Hamilton (Helmet), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate) and Josiah Johnson (the Head and the Heart).
While that’s a lot of names to fit on a promotional sticker, there’s really only one voice (literally and conceptually) on the breezy, nine-song debut. Although lush, layered and often bright, the album rarely feels like the work of a collective. Instead, it has all the markings of a solo effort from a longtime background performer set free from other artists' visions. But while creating the album was likely a hugely cathartic experience for Mendel, the results are decidedly mixed.
For better or worse, anyone expecting anything resembling Foo Fighters should move right on. Lieutenant have far more in common with the moody, ethereal sprawl of Sunny Day Real Estate than any of the arena-rocking antics of Mendel's day job. In fact, the album most resembles the self-titled 2003 release by the Fire Theft (featuring three-quarters of SDRE). The tone of the album is largely contemplative and passive with Mendel's voice -- breathy, a little mumbly and mostly unremarkable -- the main thread holding it together. There's a respectable amount of artistry and SDRE resonance in songs like the horn-tinged "Sink Sand" and the string-backed "Artificial Limbs," but much of the album tends to blend into an overall vibe of delicate melodies that, although incredibly pleasant, rarely stand out.
Still, there's a lot of potential interwoven into the proceedings. Mendel demonstrates a workmanlike approach to songwriting and the album often shines with an inherent positivity that would provide a suitable soundtrack to a summer drive along your coastline of choice. Maybe his recently assembled touring band (featuring members of Snow Patrol, Fleet Foxes and the Bronx) will breathe more energy to the songs when played in a live setting, something old-school Sunny Day Real Estate fans should be familiar with.
But it's also possible that Mendel's already impressive resume set up unrealistic expectations for his first album on his own. After all, even Dave Grohl had room to grow after the Foo Fighters' debut.