Just imagine for a second, you’re a duck (the rubber kind you find at a carnival if you like) sitting in a giant wooden container filled with water. You’re there, beaming in all your rubbery yellowness, oblivious to the outside world, captivated in keen simplicity, when some cowpoke decides to empty his .44 into your squeaky inside. It is an unpleasant situation to say the least, but when you’re a sitting duck, there is little you can do to avoid such conditions.
Even before the release of You Gotta Go There to Come Back, Stereophonics have often been labeled as sitting ducks – easy targets for acerbic tongued critics who see their brazenly simple, utilitarian rock as egregiously dull and characterless. It isn’t without merit either; Just Enough Education to Perform was movement (in the same direction however) but it was devoid of any real outstanding quality – a seemingly lifeless “experiment” (using that term lightly) into a serene brand of pop rock. And with the release of this, their fourth album, one will wonder whether or not the Stereophonics have taken a step in any significant direction to ease preconceptions.
There is no telling whether or not the members of the band, most notably front man Kelly Jones take into consideration the voices of their detractors, but since we’ve already embarked down the “imagine if” route, we’ll pretend that Jones and company wrote this record to prove their critics wrong. We’ll then analyze its contents in conjunction with this make-belief idea that this is their “Screw you!” record.
It isn’t a pleasant opening however; “Help Me (She’s Out of her Mind)” is a plodding, grinding rock tune that meanders for 7 excruciating minutes (4 minutes too long). The grating, gravel like vocals of Jones does little to soothe the ache; burying the bluesy rock guitar work under a mountain of jarring strain.
The equanimity of the following track “Maybe Tomorrow” is reinforced by the seemingly carefree lyrics; “It wastes time / And I’d rather be high / Think I’ll walk me outside/ And buy a rainbow smile.” Coupled with the very lounge sounding, shaky musical setting, the track is neither drab nor exciting and is perhaps indicative of the persistent tone that overwhelms the album. Do they wish to tightrope this line between dreary and stimulating, endlessly apprehensive about being justifiably either? Apparently so.
Their first single “Madame Helga” is certainly a boisterous affair; but the raucous vocals atop its foot tapping structure are a little cagey. It is an unsuccessful attempt in perhaps, adding some spice and personality to the release; fruitlessly ending in a confused jargon of simple, loud and irritating.
The backwatered appellation of “You Stole My Money Honey” in track four is an appropriate testament to some bourbon-laced Mississippi ghost town; riddled with country/folk leanings and jazzy inclinations, it is an interestingly tolerable, yet lazy tune. Its words of desired hopelessness and frailty (“The girls you love all sleep around / You got a piece of something / But what it’s worth is nothing / Coz what you want you just can’t buy”) comes off as written about saloon escapades in the old south by someone who has never been to the old south.
Strangely enough, Jones displays inklings of vocal ability in the dusty, low end “Getaway”. Piano backed and softly dented by guitar melody, it is a welcome diversion from all the wailing and pounding we’ve heard. They continue on this path in the old west sounding “Climbing the Wall” – an acoustic flared number that one would equate riding a horse over the barren desert with (just listen to that flailing guitar solo).
It isn’t until “Nothing Precious At All” that they manage to fuse together fundamentals of heartland rock, country-pop-alternative flair in an ear friendly, soothingly unflappable combination that finally creates a sense of fulfillment. How odd that a few Welsh boys could somehow evoke images of such austerity and longing-ness akin to some small dusty American town.
It is clear to see that while You Gotta Go There to Come Back is no audio monstrosity, it is far from being a matter of deftness and imagination. Their over reliance on paradigmatic song craftsmanship and lack of finesse results in an album that exhibits moments of distinction, but is ultimately dragged down by its dreary, almost unending landscape.
Whether or not this album is meant to be perceived this way is not an entirely important matter. If this were just “the next Stereophonics album” (as it most likely is), it comes off in the same tedious way. It’s difficult to please everyone, just ask the lads in Stereophonics. It is exponentially more difficult when you’re a sitting duck. Quack.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.