By Marty Mulrooney
Closer Than You Know is the third album from The Changes, a band formed in 2002 in Chicago. Since then, the four band members have spread out considerably across the globe. Darren Spitzer (lead singer) and Jonny Basofin (drums) are still living in Chicago, while Rob Kallick (bass) has moved to LA and Dave Rothblatt (guitar/songwriter) is living in Taiwan. That’s what made the 2013 release of their second album – American Master – such a pleasant surprise, with AMO describing it as “a worthy follow-up that quickly proves to be a real grower” and “sadness delivered with a smile.” Closer Than You Know offers fans old and new alike 10 fresh tracks to listen to and enjoy, but has their “trademark wistful lyrics and permeating sense of joyful, exuberant damp” remained intact?
The opening track, ‘Aurora’, argues that yes – The Changes are unmistakably back and everything is as it should be. Amidst the increasingly overcrowded modern-day musical landscape, it can be hard for smaller bands to stand out from the crowd with their own unique ‘sound’. The Changes have never had this problem and any long-time fan will immediately, instinctively, just ‘know’ this is the same band they’ve loved for years.
Darren Spitzer sings Dave Rothblatt’s lyrics beautifully from the first track to the last. ‘Aurora’ is a nice upbeat way to start the show, but it’s with the album’s titular second track that everything starts to click beautifully into place. The tempo is dialled back, the singing is hushed, and the percussion and guitars practically whisper. It’s a welcome return; this third album was much closer than you could have ever known… unless you regularly followed the band’s semi-active Facebook page.
Highlights include the understated, anthem-esque ‘No One’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, the fast paced and rocky (for The Changes, at least) ‘That Dream’ (featuring some lovely little guitar solos that hark back to their debut album), and ‘Never Going To See You Again’. Darren singing you’re, in, my, dreeeeeeams – bass and drums beats never wavering – before another short and effective guitar solo kicks in might just be my favourite moment of the entire album.
There’s a moment at the end of the 1970 live-action/animated film The Phantom Tollbooth where the main character, a young boy called Milo, emerges from the technicolour cartoon world he’s been visiting into the bright light of a summer’s day. The grass is green and the sky is blue and, despite there being an underlying sense of melancholy, he’s happy to be young and alive and free. Strange as it may seem, this is a moment that always comes to mind when I listen to The Changes and it’s a sentiment that’s encapsulated beautifully by their third album Closer Than You Know: everything’s going to be alright.
It will be extremely hard, if not virtually impossible, for The Changes to ever recapture the raw energy and startling newness of Today Is Tonight from 2006. However, with their third album they’ve perhaps proved that they don’t need to. Closer Than You know is a relaxed, confident release that strengthens their sound while always moving forward and looking ahead. It was rehearsed and demoed over a three-year period before being recorded at Electrical Audio in April 2016 with engineer Greg Norman, and the album cover is a photograph of Dave Rothblatt’s father at the 1970 trial of The Chicago Seven. It all comes together to create a home-grown feel that perfectly sums up why this relatively unknown band continues to endure. Keep listening to and sharing their music, they truly deserve it.
8 OUT OF 10