“It’s the little things that separate the good from the great.” That’s what Austin singer-songwriter Bob Schneider asserts on The Californian, and this album is as good a demonstration of that maxim as any.
Schneider is an affable, good-looking guy, and a dedicated craftsman, but compared with his best Texas-rooted singer-songwriter peers, he always falls short. His wordplay feels stilted when compared with the sharply drawn character sketches of Todd Snider, and he doesn’t have the loopy wit or childlike ebullience of Ben Kweller. Schneider inevitably comes off as an introspective frat boy, a sensitive smart-ass who’s not nearly as sensitive or as smart as he thinks he is.
The Californian finds Sandra Bullock’s ex in an abrasive mood, and that’s a good thing, up to a point. On tracks such as “Holding on to the World” and “Superpowers,” he pushes his thin, generic voice to maximum ferocity, and his slightly sour disposition — imagine a hotel-room hangover at 7 a.m. — curtails his weakness for cutesy humor. But for all this album’s raucous energy and spontaneously spirited playing, Schneider can’t muster a single inspired melody, and by the time you wearily reach the finish line, you feel like you’ve been bludgeoned with loud banality.
More than 1,000 songs into a successful mid-level career, little things, like musical creativity and a compelling point of view, continue to separate Schneider from greatness.