Who doesn't want What Made Milwaukee Famous to make it big? Like Death Cab big? Sadly, What Doesn't Kill Us, the Austin quintet's follow-up to 2004's twice-released Trying to Never Catch Up, isn't the album to get them there. A four-year break doesn't exactly foster momentum. "Blood, Sweat & Fears" provides a bombastic kick-start, lead singer Michael Kingcaid brooding in that way that he does, and we're off to the races. But hang on: "Sultan" sounds a little too much like Spoon, and Kingcaid insists on re-reminding us on "Cheap Wine" that he's the rightful heir to Jeff Buckley's throne. On the whole, though, it's hard to pinpoint exactly where the sophomore slump kicks in. The songs are impeccably executed; Milwaukee's sound has certainly benefited from the addition of fifth member Jason Davis on guitar. The lyrics show a bit more personality, although "Middle of the Night" is merely a revision of Burt Bacharach's exhortation for "love sweet love," but the hunger and intensity of Trying is missing. In its place is a calculated push for the big leagues that lacks the emotional depth and lyrical sincerity that propel acts like Death Cab out of the minors. To love this particular prêt-à-porter release is to settle for a cheap knockoff rather than the designer original.
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