Mirror/Messenger – Major Stars

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Mirror/Messenger sounds like a release from a band still trying to find its identity, which is surprising considering Major Stars has been around since the late nineties and that Mirror/Messenger is the second album with the band’s current line-up and vocalist Sandra Barrett. Typically known for their psychedelic, jam-based hard-rock sound, Major Stars’ newest offering leans toward being awfully poppy.

The only songs that veer from your run of the mill pop-song arrangements are “My People” and the title-track, both of which clock in at over eight minutes and have some instrumental bits seemingly straight out of the 70s. The rest of the tracks fall into typical rock song format with Barrett’s vocals way out on top of the mix. Her voice is gravelly and sultry—bringing to mind (at least for me) a bustier-clad siren with a mic clenched in hand and one stiletto boot stomped down on some dude’s throat—but the coolness stops there. Her vocal melodies lack dynamics and her phrasing is muddied by a constant legato slurring that wavers in and out of pitch. When the band busts out Sabbath-worthy riffs you can’t help but want Barrett to start wailing like Ozzy or at least Ann Wilson, but instead she plods along with her warbling mid-range croon through every song.

The band is loose, sometimes on the verge of sloppy, which is fine for a psychedelic jam band, but it just doesn’t jive with the overly structured and staid vocals. Major Stars sound like they’re probably a great bar band, but their studio sound isn’t there. The producer of their next album would be wise to take a note from stoner-rock legends Kyuss, and stick Barrett way back in the mix, let the vocals be another instrument, and let the music revel in its psychedelic ramblings rather than trying to mold it into neat little rock pop songs.