Jacco Gardner’s Cabinet of Curiosities is an aptly produced album that may be too steeped in nostalgia for its own good. Combining extreme musical chops with extreme musical cues has resulted in an album that is sturdy and direct in its vision, but one that just isn’t all that interesting. On Cabinet, Gardner has created a very deliberate frame of reference and boxed himself into it.
Gardner’s voice evokes the whimsy of the Monkees and even the more psychedelic work of the Rolling Stones. There’s a lot of nasally eagerness and a lot of the delicacy of pre-80s British pop. Gardner is a solid singer with a comfortable range; in fact Gardner’s singing might benefit from a little more discomfort. Maybe it’s better that an album reach a little higher and fall flat on its face (spectacularly), than to concern itself with a cheap facsimile of the supposed greatness of the past.
There are glimpses of modern music on Cabinet, especially coming from the Elliott Smith-inspired instrumental title track. It is clear from songs like these that there is a sufficiently talented musician at work here, but one who has spent more time cultivating a sound than he has crafting original and interesting songs. Album lows like “The Riddle” don’t just fall flat because of their nostalgic contrivances, but because the songwriting is somewhat uninspired. There are moments of truly inspired songwriting on Cabinet, but even album highlights like “Help Me Out” sound like songs that might have been written by The Move.
All said, in the context of other nostalgia artists (of which there will never be a dearth) Cabinet of Curiosities is a slam dunk of an album. Gardner has managed to take everything he loves and idealizes about an earlier era of music and present it directly and cleanly, without the awkward injection of modern pop trivialities.
Cabinet is a bottom-heavy album, with its more subdued (and minor-keyed) second half containing the album’s best-written songs. Cabinet is worth a listen for the production and its very few surprises alone, but it’s not likely an album you’ll be returning to. Jacco Gardner is an exceptional musician and a very talented producer; that shines through on Cabinet, but I was still expecting much better.