This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Folk Rock, Pop Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Spiral,” “When the Whistle Blows,” “Stranger in the Sacred Heart”
Let me preface this review by saying: I am a huge X-FILES and David Duchovny fan. I went into this wanting more than anything to be able to give Duchovny’s sophomore album, EVERY THIRD THOUGHT, a firm, confident, and earned “recommend,” despite what I anticipated was in store for me. And the album starts out promisingly: reverberating feedback and the steady swell of a guitar riff over an anthemic pounding of drums. Then, he starts singing.
The body of work behind David Duchovny is anything but insignificant—however, fronting a band doesn’t immediately come to mind. Although Duchovny’s work on shows such as THE X-FILES, CALIFORNICATION, and AQUARIUS are notable, we should be able to separate his performance as charming television sex addict from his music career. But how do you do that with someone who played the most lovable alien enthusiasts and ardent “believer” the television world has ever had to offer? Can you separate the man behind the music from his role in one of the more significant series in the cult cannon?
At first, it was hard to hear anything other than Agent Mulder crooning about lost love, but as the album progresses (or by the third go around), you become somewhat numb to the familiarity in the voice. His vocals are solid, although he occasionally strays dangerously close to sounding like a track from the inevitable one-off musical episodes that frequent network television, spawning mid-season for seemingly no reason other than a lack of better ideas. Or, perhaps, one of the writers started listening to their RENT cassette alone at home over a bottle a wine again.
Although not always the case, often when his voice beaches itself in the middling alto range, it sounds held back and hesitant, as if from a lack of technical training, despite how simultaneously produced it sounds. When Duchovny gravitates into a deeper tone, which seems to be his strength, he avoids this one-dimensionality born from the plateau of this flat-lined alto, and frankly, he sounds quite good. In one of my favorite songs from the album, “When the Whistle Blows,” for example, there is a repeated beat where he dips far below his typical vocal safety-blanket and produces a deep, gravelly croon that he should embrace more frequently.
As the album progresses, the vocal issues lessen, but his lyrics often find themselves to be distractingly forced into cliché to satisfy his prescribed need for rhyme, and on several tracks, he doesn’t shy away from being outright corny. In the opening track, “Half Life,” Duchovny takes a nerdy, tongue-in-cheek approach to love through lyrics like, “Unconditional love decays / Only fossilized hearts can break.” On paper, this sounds alright, except he’s not using it in a tongue-in-cheek fashion—the sincerity in which he says, “Matter decays exponentially / Half-lives await us all eventually / It all winds up in the ground / It’s gone, gone, gone” is done so without irony, and therefore translates as trite. Duchovny’s commonly in-your-face rhyme scheme comes across in “Half Life,” as well as in songs like “Mo’,” where he sings, “Everybody always wants more / Like a kid in a candy store / Everybody always wants the cream at the top / But nobody knows when to stop,” pigeon-holing himself into cliché to appease the rhyme. To his credit, he adheres to this self-imposed rhyme requirement throughout the entire album with zealous consistency.
I’m not here to bash David (real fans call him Dave), and there is genuine musical inclination in all of the tracks on EVERY THIRD THOUGHT. Many of the songs utilize a rock- or grunge-influenced instrumentation that thrives, “Half Life,” “Spiral,” and “Last First Time” being prime exhibitions of a clear musical ear flourishing. There are also a plethora of catchy and fun tunes on the record. For example, “Stranger in the Sacred Heart,” “Someone Else’s Girl,” “When the Whistle Blows,” “Roman Coin,” and “The Last First Time” all have solid hooks and choruses that you find yourself singing along to.
Duchovny also triumphantly adds texture to his album, varying tone and sound subtly from track to track, keeping things fresh and unique while still sounding cohesive. He transitions from the classic rock-tinted progression flowing under the verses of “Every Third Thought” to the sweet and slow, almost Western pace of acoustic promises in “Maybe I Can’t.” On several tracks, the musical accompaniment is successful enough to mask or bury any forced rhymes, smoothing them out and creating a muted, natural flow, which is particularly evident on songs like “Stranger in the Sacred Heart” and “Spiral,” two of my favorite tracks on the album. While “Spiral” isn’t exactly breaking barriers in the world of modern rock music, it adds a refreshing spin that is distinctive on the album. It begins, stripped down to his voice and a lone, pining electric guitar that rips through the empty space, which Duchovny plays to his advantage. He creates a hollow and aching build that becomes streaked with the cries of another guitar, slowly rising and paced out until the song climaxes and spirals into a cacophony of cymbals. “Spiral” disintegrates, repeating “You know I really don’t care,” until you feel the unreliable narrator hiding the true pain behind “really not caring,” as the song swallows you up in the quiet agony of it.
If you’re a big X-FILESphile, and really feel compelled to give EVERY THIRD THOUGHT a go, I say have at it. There are plenty of fun moments and charged guitar riffs to sustain a listener. There are a few songs I will definitely return to, mostly if I’m in a kitschy or ultra-niche mood, and others that I would genuinely throw on for no other reason than to hear some solid rock music. For those of you who thought I would turn it around and give Duchovny’s latest album a plot twist “recommend” (despite saying he sounds like a mediocre cover from a musical bottle-episode of network TV), I too am disappointed that I can’t. Between his constrained lyrics and not playing up his own vocal strengths consistently, I can’t say the average music appreciator needs EVERY THIRD THOUGHT in their lives.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend