Although the Baltimore band Milkshake has always claimed to have a bit of an edge, I've never really heard it in their music. Maybe their music, shiny guitars and all, retained a bit of alternative rock, but their lyrics have been safe, safe, safe. Which is fine for some families, but I know others would find the band too sentimental for their tastes.
With that context, when I say that on their latest album Great Day the band roughs things up a bit, I mean that as a compliment. Some of the roughing up comes courtesy of the sound. It's still got a gleaming pop sound, but there's more depth this go-round. From the funky piano on "Statue of Me" to Cathy Fink guesting on banjo on "When I'm Old" (Marcy Marxer pops up on "Travel Far") to the "Day in the Life"-aping title track which ends the disk and everywhere in better, there's a bit of scruffiness to the sound and a little more stylistic diversity. Is that the doing of producer Tor Hyams? Who knows, but the band's got six members, and they're beginning to use that to their advantage.
More significantly, I think, the band's now tackling some more difficult territory. The album's best track, "Enemies," one of my favorite kids songs of the year, captures the weird feeling of occasionally getting really mad at your best friend while sounding a bit like a cover of some lost kids song from the Police. "Happy Place" talks about days that are anything but happy. There are still points where I think Milkshake retreats to safety lyrically ("Happy Place" includes the couplet "Reach out and hit somebody / But I can't cause that would be naughty") and your opinion (and that of your kids) will depend on whether you (and they) find comfort in that safety or dismiss it. But I'm glad that Lisa Mathews (who writes or co-writes every song here) is willing to explore emotions and situations that kids who might actually be in double-digits would find familiar.
The 37-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 10. You can hear 5 of the songs (including "Happy Place" and "Enemies") here. Great Day has some of the band's strongest songwriting and the band sounds better than ever. While I think some families may still find the band too earnest, I think this album shrinks that population considerably. Recommended.