As any fan will tell you, change is the only certainty when it comes to the sound of Ed Hale and the Transcendence. On The Great Mistake, their follow-up to 2011's dark and sonically dense masterpiece All Your Heroes Become Villains, Hale and his long-time band ditch the heavy themes in favor of spry, catchy garage-pop gems, relentless energy and reckless abandon pouring from each track.
For this recording, rather than coming in with complex arrangements in place, lead vocalist Hale showed up with his usual arsenal of open-tuned guitars and hook-heavy song sketches that he had been collecting for years in a ratty notebook. From there, the band went about shaping the songs into concise quick fits of raw, rocking barn-burners. Band members Fernando Perdomo (guitar) and Roger Houdaille (bass) also contributed songs to the album’s controlled chaos.
On this album Hale's vocals are front and center. Mostly absent are the moments of whispered reflection featured on Hale's last solo album Ballad On Third Avenue, replaced by soaring, snarling vocal lines. Hale's lyrics on The Great Mistake are characterized mostly by a nearly manic lust for life and a fuck all attitude only hinted at on any of the band’s prior albums. I'm always up/I'm never down, he sings on the opener “ManChildWoman”, and those words are an apt description of the whole album in general. There's not a single track that sniffs the four-minute mark, and even ones with slower more mellow sections don't stay that way for long.
The other most notable defining feature of the album are the manic thunderballs courtesy of firebrand guitarist Fernando Perdomo, who peppers The Great Mistake with unforgettably catchy and melodic riffs that nod to everyone from Jimmy Page to Jack White, Todd Rundgren to T. Rex.
On the verses of the infectious “Baby Bop”, Hale's brash vocals take turns with a signature Perdomo lick, and then it's all-systems-go on a raucous chorus that dares you to try to sit still. “Monday” is a Thrills meets Matthew Sweet-esque rocker over an up-tempo beat, with drummer Bill Sommer doing his best Taylor Hawkins impression. “Hot Down” sounds like a lost Roxy Music hit or the soundtrack to a really weird but fun birthday party, and the two sections of “I Remember You” manage to channel Queen, The Strokes and Lou Reed, respectively, in the same three minutes and still manage to sound like they belong together.
With the album having been recorded in just over three days, it is clear that the band felt an excitement in the studio together that they never had before. Turning their instruments up to 11 and letting loose with everything they had and then some, songs like “The Divine Miss M” and “Nobody’s Listening to You” are the closest to punk the band has ever recorded, reminiscent of The Replacements. Though they still deliver a few numbers with their characteristic Brit-pop melodicism that stay in the head for days, most notably the tongue-in-cheek “Mongo Kitty” and the majestic “Carol’s Catastrophe”.
From start to finish The Great Mistake delivers fun, accessible over the top thrills in a rough and tumble collection of songs that is impossible to want to turn down, and, at least while listening, sound as though it could very well transcend anything else the band has released to date, which says a lot for a band who is ten years and nine albums into an already impressive career.