Bands, especially new local bands, that aim for the commercial end of popular music often end up inadvertently setting themselves up for the big knockdown. For where some might be able to get away with certain creative or sonic flaws simply because: a) they're "artists"; and/or b) the geographic scope of their aspirations could be roughly approximated by a box of Allen Parkway, Shepherd, Richmond and LaBranch, if you choose to set your sights on the big guys, you're going to be evaluated accordingly.

Such is the case for StarFX. The band has worked hard raising its profile and networking the local industry, and accordingly has been awarded with a number of high-visibility opening slots. And all this while generating the kind of vaguely observant, earnest, never-even-close-to-threatening rock music that's managed to make even Rob Thomas's name and face recognizable.

The problem is, if you hope to get noticed aiming for the middle of the road, you've got to do it exceedingly well, and StarFX does it only okay. Vocalist-guitarist (and songwriter) Rob Carranza's voice works well, possessed of a natural frailness that is as welcome and comfortable on the up-tempo numbers ("Tired," "Mind Your Biz") as it is on the slower pieces ("6am," "Mama," "Til Death"). Carranza also produced Changes, and the crystal-clear yet almost tactilely live sound captured serves the material well.

It's the music that drops the ball. Between them, Carranza, Lance Tarrance (guitar), Chris Messer (drums) and Ezio (bass) have created a record without a single moment where one of them steps forward and manages to capture your ear. And looking down the track listing on the back cover, even after a handful of listens, one is hard-pressed to come up with a memorable musical or lyrical hook. You never cringe, you just don't end up remembering much at all.

And then there's the aforementioned "Mama," which for some reason is significantly quieter than the rest of the CD, leaving the listener doing a double take at the volume knob -- an unfortunate occurrence that never ceases to be annoying and certainly could have and should have been overcome.

At the end of the day, then, StarFX has made a record that is neither as catchy nor compelling as even the best of the local competition (Ashbury Keys and Blue October, respectively), much less those on the national stage. But in an age where radio is programmed to make sure that the fewest number of people possible are ever put off by anything, who knows where the top for such an outfit lies.


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