It must be good to be Adam Schlesinger. Not only is he one of the main cogs behind two of America’s smarter, savvier pop outfits (Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, two groups that would otherwise be entirely unrelated), but he can also lay claim to having written the insatiable title song to That Thing You Do, a half-dozen more on the soundtrack to the underrated movie adaptation of Josie and the Pussycats, producer to some of the pop underground’s top drawer talent (including David Mead and yes, even Fastball … remember them?), and heck, he even co-owns a swell studio with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha. Tell me you wouldn’t want to be Adam Schlesinger. That’s right. Of course you would. Who wouldn’t want to be the Quincy Jones of the pop underworld?
It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of Ivy as Adam Schlesinger’s “other” gig by virtue of Fountains of Wayne’s modest success, but if the quality of the music had anything to do with that determination, they might very well have to ride in the same tour bus. Ivy’s fourth LP of originals (and fifth overall), In The Clear, is full of the group’s stock-in-trade, smooth, breezy pop that carries frontwoman Dominique Durand’s airy vocals along like clouds through dusky twilight. If you’ve run those Zero 7 records into the ground by now, In The Clear would make a fine proxy in the interim.
Schlesinger and guitarist Andy Chase are Ivy’s musical nervous system, the two masterminds behind a group that has reached that inevitable crossroads in their career where they have found the need to cross their early gifts, in this case their melodic sense, with their accumulated skills, in this case their studio experience. For the most part, they succeed in putting those two things together. Compared to their back catalogue, they’re not exactly rocking the boat stylistically-speaking, but these guys know what a good hook sounds like and where to put it. They’re also well aware that they have a unique lead vocalist, the Paris-born Durand, at their disposal. With In The Clear, they sound comfortable, but not complacent.
Cuts like the opening “Nothing But The Sky” and “Four In The Morning” play up the gravitationally-challenged, late-night implications of their titles, creating some effectively dreamy soundscapes. Each one is immediately adjacent to a hooky, uptempo popper, “Thinking About You” and “Tess Don’t Tell” respectively, either of which would be right at home on your local Triple A station placed haphazardly in between the new Jack Johnson and that old Stephen Stills tune about loving the one you’re with. “Keep Moving” rides a synthesizer line and skittering beat straight out of 1985, and the jaunty “I’ve Got You Memorized” gets you some good perspective on Durand’s accented vocals. Her vocals could occasionally use a little closed-captioning, but being that CDs are an entirely non-visual medium, you’re just going to have to suck it up. Besides, it’s only pop music; knowing the words isn’t exactly crucial to getting the vibe.
All in all, In The Clear is the kind of album that would be best served accompanying a nightcap after a night on the town with friends. It never steps into unexpected territory, but that isn’t synonymous with “dull” by any means. It’s a crisp, well-made album that embraces its production values without rolling around in them. Durand might be an acquired taste for some, but for me she’s at least a couple of steps ahead of Gwen Stefani’s proto-empowering yelps or the Olympic-level histrionic note strangling of innumerable American Idol contestants that would snap an ordinary person’s diaphragm in half. God forbid that someone actually sing within the confines of the song. Toss Durand’s sublime vocals in with two guys who know their way around a pop song, and you’ve got one pretty darn good album that knows where it belongs, no more, no less.