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Spirit – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

I’ve always been impressed with how solid Depeche Mode’s later era albums are. Most bands still going over 30 years lose that something that made them special and start churning out mediocre material. While none of Mode’s later albums hit me like their early stuff, they’re still pretty impressive. So I was pretty psyched when they announced Spirit. When I got my hands on it, I found another solid record that finds the band turning their gaze outward instead of in. The band offers a damning commentary on what’s going on in the world. This isn’t the first time they’ve done it; look at “People Are People,” but it’s their most politically charged effort. Though their commentary is often blistering, it’s often too much and doesn’t make for a wholly satisfying album.

The album opens with the rousing “Going Backwards,” one of the strongest songs on the album. It’s booming opening making you think of an army marching in the field sets up the dark mood of the song. The lyrics find Dave Gahan calling out our society and how despite all our progress, we keep moving backwards: “We are not there yet/We have not evolved/We have no respect/We have lost control.” It’s eerily appropriate to what’s happening now with political tensions running high and the rights of people being threatened. Though it’s not an in-your-face song, there’s still a lot of anger and frustration channeling through the song. They’re clearly fed up with what’s going on and this can speak to those who feel the same. It’s a blistering track that’ll get your fist pumping for change by the end of it. Its political nature sets the tone for most of what’s to come.

I was never really sold on lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” Though I really like the dark, futuristic synth music, this song doesn’t thrill me or get me going like their other material. It has a well-meaning message: get off your ass, stop complaining, and make a change. Still, it never really got me excited for the album. And the bridge where they repeat “The train is coming/get on board/the engine’s humming” made me roll my eyes. They couldn’t be serious with that part, right? I get the metaphor they’re going for, but it’s too on the nose and comes off as awkward. Though it’s not my favorite, I do appreciate the song for its lyrics like “Who’s making your decisions/you or your religion” that, again, reflects what’ we’ve been going through on a daily basis.

According to Gore, most of the album was written over the course of two years, yet it sounds like it was written for the Trump take over. While the commentary they offer is appreciated, it does get tiring. The band has touched on political issues in the past with songs like “People Are People” and “Everything Counts,” but they’ve never done it to the extent they do it here. Just because they usually don’t make political statements in their songs doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ever do it, but the way the band goes about it isn’t necessarily subtle. The biting track “Scum” finds the band attacking someone and begging them to “pull the trigger” that instantly makes you think of Trump. It’s one of the more memorable tracks even though some parts are disjointed, which can be off-putting. The slow burning “The Worst Crime” looks at what’s happening and blames it all on misinformation and stupidity that we’re all to blame. These songs aren’t bad, but after repeated listens you get tired. After a while you think we get it, we’re fucked. Can we dance now?

Luckily, not everything is focused on the political climate of the world. Things properly pick up with the infectious “You Move.” The song hooks you instantly with its heavy groove and sexy vibe. The lyrics fit more in tune with past Depeche Mode topics: unbridled lust, love, and temptation. The track is one of the few that gets you excited and makes you want to dance. Sounding like a leftover from Delta Machine, “So Much Love to Give” gives the album a much needed energy boost. The upbeat synth and the memorable hook makes it a fun diversion from the blackness the album is steeped in. Providing a bit of optimism, lyrics like “You can forsake me/try to break me/But you can’t shake me/no” shows it’s not the end yet; we still have a fighting chance. “Poison Heart” isn’t all that upbeat, but it’s another notable cut from the record. It lures you in with its stuttering, Blues inspired riff and opens with Gahan’s throaty vocals singing “You have poison in your heart/I’m sure of it.” A track about a nasty relationship coming to an end, it’s nothing spectacular, but it stands out from the other heavy tracks.

Honestly, there isn’t a song I outright hate on the album. Sadly, most of them aren’t that notable or are just a drag. “Poorman” has a harrowing opening filled with doom laden music and eerie harmonies of “Heeeey” that sound like ghostly apparitions. It’s another politically charged song about corporations only looking out for themselves, which we pretty much know. It’s not bad, but doesn’t really add much to the album. “Cover Me” is another slow song with somber music and gloomy lyrics about not reaching that other life. It actually makes me think of the end of the world. The highlight here is the dreamy, atmospheric music that gets an extended play near the end. Again, not terrible but nothing stellar. “Eternal” and “Fail” are both Gore solo spots that are decent, but again, nothing amazing. The former has a similar vibe to “I Want You Now” with Gore expressing his love, while sounding sinister and diabolic. The latter is another song damning where our society is and condemning all of us ending the album on a depressing note.

So is the album as bad as some critics said? Not really, but it’s not as great as some are claiming either. I appreciate the band’s efforts to comment what’s going on in the world. Some of the lyrics on those songs are poignant and thoughtful.  That being said, at times it does feel like you’re being bashed in the head with these messages. I applaud the band for going out of their comfort zone and showing that they’re willing to try different things. That’s a least a plus for this album. But it can be a bit tiring at times, which could be how they’re presented as slow, brooding tracks that drag on and on. It leaves you feeling hopeless at times. Putting political messages aside, most of the songs don’t pack the same punch and excitement of their other material. Even the tracks on their last album were more exciting. There are a handful of memorable tracks, but most of them don’t hit that sweet Mode spot even though they’re well meaning. Many of the songs I can’t picture myself listening to again outside of the record. Like many of their modern records, it’s solid and has some great moments. But does it live up to expectations? Not really.

“Bang Bang” – Green Day

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 10/10

Green Day’s later releases have not been received all that well. Though 21st Century Breakdown was another critical smash, it gained a negative reputation in the fan community. Many critics and fans didn’t care for their 2012 Trilogy, which was ambitious, but flawed. So with the announcement of a new Green Day song, I was kind of underwhelmed. Yes, I was excited for new Green Day music, but I’ve been disappointed in the past. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. When “Bang Bang” dropped, I shut my fucking mouth and rocked on.

Let me just say: the song is awesome. It begins with a sweet bass riff from Mike Dirnt that chugs along, implying the danger that’s about to happen. The guitar lulls underneath it, leaving listeners anticipating the moment when everything’s unleashed. From there, the music explodes in a mass of frantic guitars and pounding drums. Though the riff sounds like “St. Jimmy” in parts, it still has an aggressive edge to it that denotes the song is about to kick ass. It’s loud and in your face, which is what the band does best. Things slow down a bit for the bridge; the music plays with tension – the air of danger comes back in. It’s not long til everything explodes again and chaos ensues.

The lyrics are some of Billie’s best. Rather than revisiting days of youth, he focuses on the here and now. Taken from the perspective of a mass shooter, the lyrics talk about finding fame through means of violence, which America has many. It’s not as catchy as some of their other hooks, but it’s so satisfying. The song has cheeky lines like “give me death or give me head” and “daddy’s little psycho and mommy’s little soldier.” And the way Billie spits out “Bang bang!” during the hook is so deliciously on edge. There are some fun “hurrahs” thrown in and Billie lets out the most vicious scream during the bridge when he sings “World war zero!” It’s like the band are determined to kick ass and speak up once again.

It’s fiery, energetic as hell, and gets your heart pumping for more. It has the snotty attitude of old school Green Day mixed with the ambition of the later era, giving us the best of both worlds. And it is awesome. The last time I was this excited about new Green Day was “Know Your Enemy” and “Bang Bang” is ten times better than that. This is a song that makes you excited for the new album and what this next era of Green Day has in store. If the rest of the songs on Revolution Radio are as good or better than this one, it could be their next huge album.

 

Ellipsis – Biffy Clyro

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Biffy Clyro are one of those bands that likes experimentation. Their music often falls into that category where so many genres are mashed together the best way to describe is “alt rock.” They make the type of songs that seem complex, taking several listens just to piece everything together. They often shift gears between albums and they seem to do the same for their seventh release. Biffy go all out rock for their most accessible release so far.

Biffy Clyro get in touch with their hard rock side on this album. They’ve been never been shy about getting raw and gritty before, but they normally vary their sound. Here, they stick on a pretty straightforward path. The opening track “Wolves of Winter” is intense and hard hitting. All the music hits you like a crashing wave for an aggressive tone. There’s a moment where the music drops, leaving only a steady bass line and Simon Neil’s rapid vocals. Something about it is so satisfying, making it one of the stronger songs on the album. There’s even some clever wordplay with the lyric “Just remember, no I in team/There’s two in brilliant.” It’s a great, energetic track that leaves your blood pumping. The same goes for lead single “Animal Style.” The gritty guitars and somewhat sensual vibe make it an intense rock song. The hook is memorable, the music is driving and dirty, and Neil cooing “ooo ooo ooo” makes it a stand out on the album.

Tracks like “Flammable” and “On a Bang” continue with the raw, intense rock trend. They’re in-your-face tracks with great energy and a lot of attitude. When Neil sounds fed up when he sings “Now you know better/why can’t you fucking do better” on the latter track. They have similar mood and sound to the previous rock songs. They’re good but may not grab you instantly. Biffy seem to leave the weird, complex compositions behind for the majority of the record for a more accessible sound. This is best heard on the ballad “Re-arrange.” Rather than being intricate, epic, and heartbreaking, it plays like current radio hits. The sappy lyrics, echoing beat, and hand claps make it more suited for a band like X Ambassadors. It’s not horrible, but it can be off-putting for those who aren’t used to Biffy sounding like every other band on the radio. Luckily, this is the only low point on the album.

Biffy has always experimented with their sound and they do the same here with the odd “Small Wishes.” It’s their country song. It has light, twinkling music with twangy guitars that make you question if you’re still listening to the same album. The song is even more jarring since it comes after two gritty, rock songs full of loud, fuzzy guitars. It leaves you scratching your head, not really sure what you just heard. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it actually fit with the rest of the album. Though there are some slow songs, the majority of it is intense rock. It’s hard to go from that to a country song. The track is better suited for a b-side. Otherwise, feels out of place on the album.

What’s most interesting about this album are the lyrical themes. Even if it’s difficult to pinpoint what certain songs are about, it’s easy to see the running thread of broken relationships and unchecked feelings. On the upbeat “Howl” Neil laments how he’s “always got the rage” and can’t really change for the better of a relationship and he questions what real love is on “Herex.” On the ballad “Medicine,” there are several references to addiction, whether it be drugs or not letting go of things. It climaxes for a dramatic end where Neil hints it may be better if the other person just left. But these themes are provocatively captured on the beautiful closing track “People.” It begins slow and gradually builds up to a fuller sound over time. The song takes a somber turn as Neil sings about being mean, having the “Cruelest mouth/and sick little tongue” driving his lover away. It’s a definitive classic Biffy track that ends the album on a downer. There’s so much going on here you’ll play it on repeat just to hear the music, lyrics, and vocals come together for this melancholy tune.

Ellipsis is another solid album from Biffy Clyro. But unlike releases Puzzle and Opposites, it doesn’t grab you right away. This is a record that has to grow on you over time. Because there are few intricate compositions, varied styles, or epic moments, many of the songs don’t grab you right away. Their other songs felt larger than life, complex, and sometimes weird. These songs don’t have the same impact since this record is straightforward rock. It’s still enjoyable to listen to and is probably their most accessible, but it may take a while for long time fans get into. The new album is still exciting, energetic, and has that Biffy charm.

“No Way Out” – Bullet For My Valentine

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7.5/10

Since the beginning of the year, Bullet For my Valentine have been providing studio updates for their new album. Last month, they gifted impatient fans with the first new song from their upcoming LP Venom. The song isn’t perfect, but it’s already an improvement from the Temper Temper singles. The track roars to life with Matt Tuck screaming “No way out” at the top of his lungs while furious guitars chug and grind behind him. Everything sounds so viscous and raw when it kicks off. It starts out strong and in your face making sure you fucking heard them.

From there on the song is standard BFMV: intense, screaming vocals and brutal music paired with melodic singing and kick ass guitar solos. This is a technique they’ve perfected at this point and it works just as well in this song, but the chorus is a little weak. It’s pretty simple and not all that memorable, even a little cheesy. I thought Tuck sounded a little whiny during this part. Even with this issue, the track is still more aggressive and hard hitting than most of the material on their last album. It’s at least better than their rushed effort “Raising Hell,” which was okay at best.

Ever since the release of their last album, Bullet have been talking about going harder for their next effort. Some of the brutality that was missing from their last LP is found on this track, but it’s not all the way there. It seems like they amped everything up, went hard, but also mixed in some of the rock notions they picked up on their last LP. It actually works better here than before.

I didn’t think the track was mind blowing, but it’s a hell of a start. It’s one of those songs that grows on you over time. It doesn’t really stick with you on the first listen, but after hearing it a few times, you start to get more into it. If anything, it will get fans excited for the new album and I can’t wait to hear another new track from the band. Let’s hope the album shows Bullet For my Valentine at their best.

“Dead Inside” – Muse

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 9/10

Ever since they began posting snippets of new material on Instagram and Facebook, fans have been salivating for new Muse material. We finally got it in the form of two new songs. While “Psycho” was okay, it wasn’t that exciting or attention grabbing It kind of felt like Muse doing what they usually do, which isn’t bad, just not the epic music you expect from them by now. But their first official single, “Dead Inside,” is just the opposite.

Letting their Queen influence come through loud and clear, the song finds the band returning to the funk/synth infused music they’ve explored before on tracks like “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Undisclosed Desires.” Everything from Matt’s falsetto opening to the heavy hitting drums that follow all work to pull into its slinky, sexy groove. Though the song is steeped in sensual and trickling synth riffs it doesn’t abandon their rock side. It actually finds the band returning to the harder sound they had on their first few albums.

The cool, sleek electronic music and stark keys are mixed with gritty, dirty guitar riffs that remind you what an excellent player Bellamy is. The music here doesn’t sound rehashed and familiar as it does on “Psycho.” Even though the lyrics deal with a cold, heartless woman, Matt and co. still manage to make the whole thing sound sexy as hell. Bellamy lets his sweet sounding, otherworldly voice flow free, which was sorely missed on the band’s previous album. The best part comes during the bridge when he sings “Don’t leave me out/in the cold” when he voice goes so high it seems to be melding with the electronic music. It’s cool and slightly trippy.

Overall, the song gets 9/10. This is the Muse fans were waiting for. They wanted something big, mind blowing, and drastic. “Psycho” had very little of those elements. That song isn’t horrible, but it wasn’t exciting. “Dead Inside” is all of those things. It mixes the old and the new for a sound that’s sexy and strange, like the band themselves. This is a single that makes you excited for the new album to discover where Muse is going to go next. The guys have never been afraid of playing with their sound. While it’s great to see them continue to do so with their new stuff, it’s also great to hear them return to their harder roots that fans have been waiting for.