Inside Your Head is prolific local alternative rocker Michael Tiernan’s fifth full-length CD since 2004. A guy with a great story, he has traveled this country and Europe, survived cancer and lost a brother to it, was a seminarian in the Vatican, and became a married father of two. Tiernan makes a point on his latest of using his experiences as a springboard for songs that explore life’s dichotomy: there is a dark side as well as light, and not everything is marked by the upside that comes to mind in the songs on many of his past releases.
Tiernan’s 12 originals are again given a glossy production, and at times over-production, by Andres de Santanna, who did the same for his last disc, with a crew of credential-heavy LA studio musicians; like on that disc, the sound jumps genres from track to track. Tiernan’s comfortable vocals seem at home regardless, whether singing a bluesy tune, reggae, or infectious pop.
The interesting title tune finds Tiernan wondering about the state of the world, while banjos, layered keys, choirs of backing vocalists, and a studio full of instruments join to play the catchy pop melody. “Run” rides a winning reggae guitar hook and tasty percussion, as Tiernan sings “Run, run around like it’s all on you/ Feel the fire burning if you step in my shoes.” The songs here are uniformly strong, and a point can be made that on a few that less might be more: on “What Am I Gonna Do?” the Coldplay-outtake wall of sound arrangement and gospel-style background singing by, what sounds like, all seven credited backing vocalists, is overkill. Tiernan can write charming pop tunes and the best here might be “Bloom,” a highlight done as a duet with Dannielle deAndrea. Starting small with great dynamics, it builds to a moment of triumph, “We’ve been though both high and low tide/ With a feeling that we might live out our dreams… Our love is in bloom.”
The second half of the disc marks Tiernan’s trip to the dark side, and “Rage” is another highlight with a rock beat, edge, and lyric about young kids growing up with shattered dreams, and wars inside their heads: “When you get your rage on/ You keep the chains on.” More of the same is next, a forbidding guitar riff anchors the very un-Tiernan-like “Dark Heart,” which broods about how your dark heart can “paint the world red” if you aren’t careful. Tiernan scores more points with “Stainless Steel,” which again pushes blues-rock guitar buttons-his “dark side” tunes have compelling riffs. He works “I’ve got a loaded gun” into the lyrics of “Release It,” which seems a sort of resolution of his trip down under since it’s about working through his angst and getting positive; then he follows it with “This Could Be the Year,” which is a rousing anthem of hopefulness.
Inside Your Head is relentlessly catchy, slickly produced pop that reflects Michael Tiernan’s ability as a master of hooks-and it has something to say.