From The Published Archives: Mouse

Jay Semko is best known for his work with The Northern Pikes, an underappreciated Canadian band that had a good 10-year run from the mid-to-late 80s until the early 90s.  (He played bass and sang lead on a number of songs.)  When the band initially split up in 1993 Semko pursued a dual career as a solo artist and a TV/Film composer.  (His most notable credits:  composing the theme for the TV show Due South and some music for the 2002 film Men With Brooms.)
 
In 1995, he released his first solo album, Mouse.  I reviewed it for The Satellite.  My 3 and a half star rave (out of 5) appeared on October 24, 1995 on page 15.  I liked it at the time even though I felt it was very different than what The Pikes were famous for putting out.  I haven’t heard it in years but I stand by my printed assessment.
 
The Northern Pikes reunited a few years ago and resumed recording new material.  According to Semko’s website, he’s got a lot on the go.  He’s co-producing an album by New Brunswick musician Matt Andersen, The Pikes are preparing the release of a new studio album this spring and Semko will unveil his second solo album, Redberry, this year as well.   He still composes music for TV shows, movies and documentaries, and even does voice-overs for commercials.
 
On Mouse, besides 8 original songs, there are 2 selections that were featured in made-for-TV movies.  Paris Or Somewhere is taken from the 1995 Global TV production of the same name.  (Molly Parker and John Vernon starred.)  At the time of the review I had never heard of it and as of this writing, I still haven’t seen it.  According to the Internet Movie Database it’s an adaptation of a 1907 play called Playboy Of The Western World.  The other selection is Strange And Rich which also happens to be the name of a 1994 Global TV-movie.  I don’t remember it and I’ve not seen it. 
 
I mention all this because, at the time of the original review, I knew nothing about these productions.  Thanks to my internet research, I know a little more than I did 11 years ago.
 
One more thing.  Once again, the entertainment editor who overlooked my review broke apart a number of contractions I had in the original piece.  As I said in a previous posting, when you take out contractions it makes me sound like Data from Star Trek.  They have been restored for my website.  Other than that minor quibble, this is the published version of my review.
 
 
MOUSE
JAY SEMKO
 
By Dennis Earl
Special To The Satellite
 
If you were a fan of the Northern Pikes and their many memorable hits (like me), chances are, you won’t like Mouse, the entertaining solo debut from that band’s former bassist, Jay Semko.

In spite of a few clunkers, the album is worth listening to. Mouse is a moody collection of songs that, on a musical level, would definitely sound out of place alongside Teenland and Things I Do For Money. These new tunes are weirder and even more personal than what the Pikes produced. Semko’s intelligent lyrics, on the other hand, are the best thing about the album. Much of the material here feels cinematic and relies heavily on plot as well as emotion. The album’s best song, Who Cares, for instance, is about a character who, like myself, is depressed about the mediocre quality of the modern American cinema and therefore, turns to the written word for escapism. At least, that’s what it sounds like on the first listen.

After a number of intense listenings, it becomes clear that Semko is also attacking his critics because they aren’t particularly swift at separating their personal beliefs from their abilities in judging the merit of the music. “Who died and made you king?” he asks them.

Other notable songs on the album include the opener, Adventure On My Breath, which deals with the adrenaline rush that comes during a daring escape from the comfort zone; Mouse In A Hole, a condemnation of those who refuse to resist temptation; and Strawberry Girl, a sincere love song about an older man and a younger woman who meet on her father’s farm.

When Semko writes with a deeper meaning, the music succeeds. But when he becomes literal, it’s boring. My-y-y Rock And Roll is a good example of the latter. (Boy, is that one slow!) So is the utterly phony Face of Shame, an unconvincing apology by the envious and (often liquored up) boyfriend of an up-and-coming Shania Twain-type country singer who’s struggling in the bar scene. And if you thought Semko (an otherwise fine vocalist) couldn’t even hit a bad note, listen to the chorus of Paris Or Somewhere. You’ll wince.

At least, 7 of the 10 tracks are worth it. There’s even an instrumental selection from the movie, Strange And Rich (I don’t think it’s about Prince’s life story), that’s both spooky and dramatic. It’s an effective (and short) mood piece. I’ve never heard of that movie or Paris Or Somewhere, another movie that Semko contributed music to, but I would like to check out those soundtracks.

At any rate, Jay Semko’s Mouse is a musical journey worth taking. Let’s hope the next album pushes the boundaries of the alternative genre even further. He is more than capable of doing that.

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 8, 2006
7:36 p.m.
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Published in: on April 8, 2006 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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