After weeks of Miley Cyrus, Bookmarks, the new album from Five for Fighting, couldn’t come soon enough. The twelve songs remind us pop music can be about family, love and life rather than twerking.
John Ondrasik’s latest project follows previous tunes woven into American memory such as “100 Years” and “Superman.” That’s where Five for Fighting always shines – capturing that sense of life, joy, and small moments which taken together are grand. Bookmarks is no different.
Ondrasik always seems to be up to something grand, even if it isn’t obvious. His music, like Bob Dylan, U2, Van Morrison, is about bigger things, in everyday form and gently presented.
The album beings with the explosive and uplifting “Stand Up“:
If your dreams put you asleep/ If you have to paint your face/
and you’re not a clown/ If you’re naked lost in space/
and all you wear’s a frown/
Stand up Stand up/ Cause you’re falling down.
“What If,” the song’s first single is a story of empathy:
Imagine all the pain that might be forgiven/
What if I had your heart/
What if you wore my scars. . . /
What if your hand was my hand/ Could we hold on and let go?
Bookmarks is about permanent and good things, not vain and transient ones.
It’s hard for me to separate Ondrasik from our mutual friend Andrew Breitbart. When I met Ondrasik, it was at the end of a magic night where he played for the benefit of the troops. I had told Andrew that “100 Years” by Five for Fighting was always a tearjerker for me. “Me too,” he said. Later that night at a gathering, I had the joy of sharing that story with Ondrasik, telling him how we were both moved by his song of family and the pace of time whenever we heard it.
In the liner notes, Ondrasik thanks Andrew. But I couldn’t help but remember that night in the beautiful third track, “Heaven Knows“:
Tell me where the good men go/ Before I wash away/
Walk me down the old brick road/ So I can die where I met you/
Hold me like we’re going home/ Turn your tears to rain/ bury me beautiful/ Heaven knows how I loved you.
Bookmarks isn’t beneath whimsy, as in ”She’s My Girl“:
But she’s my girl/ She’s better than ice cream/
I know you know what I mean/
better than the real thing/ she can make my heart scream.
Who doesn’t scream for ice cream, and more?
Overall, Bookmarks satisfies. It is an even work, without some of the brief, rough valleys of previous Five for Fighting albums. This one shines from beginning to end.
“Symphony Lane” is a piano-driven American dreamscape:
Symphony Lane is a shaded drag/ With one house on the block/
Park your car at the violins/ Leave your heart unlocked/ It’s all around you… /
Symphony Lane is one hundred years old/ Born just yesterday.
“The Day I Died,” the closing track, may be the most haunting on Bookmarks. Once again, Ondrasik takes us into the small things of life:
I woke up/ You next to me/
You said good morning/ Are you free/
The sun crept in/ For one last time/
I was alive/ the day I died.
And the small moments become the largest ones in “The Day I Died”:
Wind started to roar/ Screamed time to go/
You know all you need/ You need all you know/
I was alive/ I was alive…/
Universe cracked/ I saw the light/
You called my name/ I did not respond/
But I heard you well/ Carried you on.
Bookmarks has the same melodic joy found in previous Five for Fighting albums. Stories of American life, love and family intermix with the largest things in subtle and personal ways. The songs are lyrical and joyous, like the wind, it “blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot [always] tell where it comes from and where it goes.”