The very versatile PT Walkley has come up with an album that shows his range from indie rock to old R&B to motivational children’s music all while sounding like a VH1 staple. Shoulders opens with lots of electric piano, horns, and back-up singers that sound fresh from a gospel choir. Later, NYC-based Walkley introduces slow, simple numbers that let his voice take precedence over acoustic guitar, and then some indie rock numbers with gritty distorted guitar. There isn’t a cohesive sound to the album, but then again, it reflects the many different sounds Walkley creates on a regular basis. In addition to creating his own original music and opening for bands like Coldplay and Weezer, he has composed the soundtracks for movies (including many Edward Burns films,) he writes the music and provides voices for Nickelodeon’s Team Umizoomi, and he writes music (or licenses his songs) for advertisements for Mastercard, Pepsi, and other major brands. This extremely varied musical career shows on this album. While the songs are very different, he does them all well and with great skill. It didn’t hurt that this album was produced by Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning Bill Sherman. The album is so clean and well-produced that the constantly changing genres and sounds aren’t jarring or disorganized; the album flows well despite there being a pretty huge difference in the tone throughout the LP.
The first half of the album is quite upbeat. Even with a title like “Leeches,” the opening track is a happy-sounding song about wanting to be with his quirky ex (he’d rather deal with leeches sucking on him than be without his ex, in case you were wondering how that title fit such a song.) On the bouncy songs with horns, organs, and gospel-like backup singers, it’s easy to see how his music has been used for recent major advertisements. There’s an ongoing theme of keeping relationships together: in “Leeches” he wants his ex to stay over after picking up alimony, on “Sirens” he tries to talk someone into not straying from his wife and abandoning his son (in a peppy way,) and you can guess that “Don’t Forget About Me” is a plea to get back together to someone who’s doing much better single. On “It’s Alright,” it’s easy to see how he writes music for a children’s television show. With lyrics like “you’re wonderful (believe in yourself,) wonderful (and nobody else, ) wonderful (can be you the way you do,) soon you’re gonna see it too,” it plays out like something between a life coach’s motivational speech and a children’s song. “Eat You Up” gives advice for not letting things stress eat you up while sounding a little Paul McCartney-esque. It also brings leeches back into the picture, advising that “you’ll never bleed enough to let the leeches let you go” so you should let your worries go. At times the lyrics of a couple songs switch to just giving advice on how to get through life, at which points I felt like Grumpy Cat surrounded by too much positivity. Luckily, this upbeat theme didn’t last through the whole album. There is a reprieve until the final track, “A Toast,” when positive lyrics like “there’s better days ahead no matter what the news man says to sell the papers” come back. There’s also stuff about making it through the night because we believe in love.
The lyrics and ideas get darker about half-way through the album. “Silver Dollar Pancakes” is a simple but moving song with just an acoustic guitar that tells of a man who leaves his family. “Children” and “Hello, Eyelids” are also pared down to acoustic guitar and vocals with just a hint of electric piano in the background on the former. “Rose Colored Glasses” seems to be set in a brothel (or at the very least, a bar where one can pick up a sex worker) and tells of watered down dreams and drinks, describing a depressing scene with rather bouncy electric piano and Latin-sounding guitar and horns. Walkley’s rock side is hinted at on the advice-filled “Eat You Up,” but his indie rock skills are properly showcased on “No Time to Sweat” and “Lost My Way.” “Lost My Way” brings the gospel singers and electric piano back from earlier songs but turns them around to fit this gritty track. “Blindsided,” with its country and blues inspirations, describes the sadness of losing someone and seems like it’s about the jump back to the theme of the beginning of the album and give advice, but it stops at just describing things that happen when you’re bereaved.
While I couldn’t stomach all of the super positive advice on some of the songs, I can’t ignore that Walkley has got talent to spare. The lyrics showed that he can look at both sides of the coin with the ongoing theme of family and marriage: he covers trying to repair a broken marriage on the upbeat songs as well as telling the stories of a man cheating and/or leaving his family on the darker ones. He can craft great songs, I would just like to hear more of what he can do with indie rock; those two tracks just weren’t enough. Overall, this well-crafted though varied album sounds like it belongs on the VH1 Top 20, so if that’s your cup of tea, go for it.