Music To Eat Lunch To – The Tender Box: The Score

Release: October 2006
Label: Universal
Tracks: 11
Rating: 3

Before I get deeply involved in a description of this album and its merit (or lack thereof), let me first explain my rating system for these reviews. Like most scoring charts, mine starts at one and ends at ten, with ten being the best. Simple. But how can a set of music tracks be summed up in a lonely number at the top of a page? It might sound inane, and just so you don’t go away thinking that I throw around tens and ones at will, I’d like to run through the key points that I’m looking for when I listen to a new release.

These key points are flow (how the songs tie together and relate to one another), use of instruments, lyrical content, and most importantly, overall sound. Flow counts for two points, use of instruments contributes three, lyrical content gets two, and overall sound is assessed for the final three. Ideally, I’m looking for songs that are together on a CD because they complement one another. The songs should progressively create an atmosphere or deliver a message. “Use of instruments” doesn’t just mean that the band members should know how to play. It means they should be creating a sound that is both skilled and enjoyable at the same time. Writing a unique guitar riff that is piercing and incongruent with the rest of the melody isn’t something I will score highly. Using the instrument to work together with the rest of the sound in an ultimately pleasant or surprising way is something I will score highly.

Based on these principles, I’ve given the debut album from The Tender Box a scant three. It is an unfortunate rating. I was expecting great things from this Mexican-American band. The members grew up with a lot of British music and claim to have incorporated this kind of indie sound into their own songs. The influence is clearly there, but to no real advantage. The boys have, in fact, created a sound that is not far at all from The Tragically Hip — indie, soft, and with lyrics just touching on the fabric of society without getting any further into it. The product of their efforts isn’t entirely un-enjoyable during songs like “A Place Called Home,” a mellow song whose poetic, wistful lyrics work perfectly with the soft beat and guitar. But instead of coming into their own as the album progresses, the tracks simply become more painfully sharp and hard to listen to.

It feels as if the band has found its own indie niche in modern reproductions of Depeche Mode, but the element that sits awkwardly on top of basically solid instrumentals is the vocalizations of singer Joey Medina. His voice on top of the sharp sound of the band and his own guitar just adds another sharp ingredient into a sound that could really use some softened vocal edges.

So, you must be wondering where the key rating points come in. With no redeeming qualities to be found neither in the flow nor in the overall sound of The Score, I’ve given The Tender Box one point for lyrical content and another two points for their use of instruments, which despite an irritating overall quality work well together on several occasions.

I think the only real problem with this album is that the band is young and has yet to develop its own sound. The guys seem to still be trying to emulate their heroes, instead of finding their own way in the music. I think that once they do find their way, the quality of future albums is destined to rise. For now, the music produced has little appeal.