Saturday, 11 September 2010

Stone Sour - Audio Secrecy [7/10]

It might be considered fair to say that Stone Sour’s musical output has rather predictably evolved (or devolved, personal opinion depending) consistently into more mainstream territory ever since Corey Taylor decided to resurrect his pre-Slipknot outfit almost 8 years ago. Some of heavy metal’s finest have followed the same pattern. Machine Head’s infamous dabble into nu-metal from the pulverisingly heavy nature of their first two records. Metallica transforming from thrash metal’s ultimate kings into US rock radio’s poster boys in 1991. Christ, even Slipknot themselves. What sets these bands apart from the 30 Seconds To Mars’ of this world is when they attack the mainstream with enough ingenuity and grit behind them to maintain their credibility. Somehow, even in spite of being one of heavy metal’s most commercially viable bands in the first place, Stone Sour have pulled this off, with quite frankly fantastic results.

Though the cliché instrumental title track intro leaves a little to be desired and feels somewhat pointless, what follows is a very rarely flawed collection of rock songs with the best pop sensibilities, and complete unabashed made-for-radio ballads. Stop dry heaving. It’s not as bad as you’re thinking. As a matter of fact, open your mind a little, and you’ll find places where it’s simply fucking brilliant. ‘Mission Statement’ truly kicks off the proceedings and comes out exactly as its title would suggest. It’s simple, it’s direct, and it’s an absolute showcase of Corey Taylor’s vocal capabilities, his voice ranging from roar to soar, backed up with what might be the tightest rhythm section in contemporary metal. ‘Digital (Did You Tell)’ doesn’t exactly deviate from the path ‘Mission Statement’ set, but still holds an identity totally of its own, with possibly the catchiest riff in Stone Sour’s catalogue anchoring a song surrounded by some of the most infectious vocal lines you’ll hear all year, and look out for the inventive and imaginative guitar unison section. Unless you’ve become a hermit in the last few months, you’ve likely heard ‘Say You’ll Haunt Me’ and soaked up all of its unashamedly commercial charms. It’s the closest Corey has ever come and probably ever will come to writing his own Barry Manilow number (again, stop dry heaving), but it’s delivered in his distinctively dark and oddly machismo fashion. Massive chorus. Truly huge. Seriously. You could do weights with this shit and you’d be a brick shithouse in a matter of days. ‘Dying’ is where Stone Sour fan’s will likely start to gawp a little, and be forced to either take a step back and accept that their favourite band is experimenting or conclude that they’re money-grabbing whores who don’t deserve your attention. It’s not difficult to see how the latter reaction could come into play, since ‘Dying’ is essentially the best song Nickelback never wrote. But I refer you to the aforementioned ‘ingenuity and grit’ that, even in its worst moments, this album is drenched in. A simple opening of the mind allows this song to be nothing but a straight ahead banger. And I fucking hate Nickelback. ‘Let’s Be Honest’ comes out as a bit of a throwback - this wouldn’t look at all out of place on a Drowning Pool or a Soil album. It genuinely feels like it's 2001 all over again. It’s not the albums strongest point, but it’s not its weakest point either. Thankfully, this isn’t to be where the album dips and never comes back up, as is customary with so many albums in this day and age. ‘Unfinished’ continues in a similar vein to our last track, but the result is just an all round better crafted song, sharing just enough equal amounts energy and pop injection to make it work. It’s nothing special, nor does it intend to be or dress itself up as such. It is the simplest of musical pleasures – a catchy rock song. Listeners be warned though, if you think ‘Dying’ has at least been the wettest point of the album and it can’t get any worse from here (not this writer – ‘Dying’ is a fucking tune. Fact), it’s about to get a whole lot wetter with ‘Hesitate’, the biggest diversion from Stone Sour’s original sound you’ll find on the whole album. Whereas ‘Dying’ retained enough of the fire in Corey’s voice to get away with it, ‘Hesitate’ takes the radio ballad format full throttle. It is so disgustingly what every record label wants their bands to deliver...and yet, it still comes out at the end holding its head high. It’s almost as if becoming so commercially friendly has ended up being the biggest “Fuck you” that Stone Sour could ever conjure. ‘Nylon 6/6’ and ‘Miracles’ are either the place where the album dips or the place where the band take you into a new direction entirely (once again, opinion depending). ‘Nylon 6/6’ is essentially what you’d expect to hear in a filler track from the first album, and ‘Miracles’ is what Alice In Chains would sound like with a pop sheen. ‘Pieces’ doesn’t exactly pick momentum back up, nor does it dip it any further, its biggest strength and its biggest weakness being that it could easily pass for any WWE pay-per-view’s theme song. ‘The Bitter End’ is a massive improvement on the last three tracks, echoing the mood and feel of Come Whatever (May) while still retaining the (you guessed it) ever evident commercial-cum-WWE tendencies. ‘Imperfect’ is undoubtedly the highlight of the ballad side of the album, passing as the more sorrowful albeit less intense cousin of ‘Bother’, whereas ‘Threadbare’ closes proceedings with an amalgam of stoner-fuelled verses and grungy choruses, tailed off with a distinctly Mastodon-esque closing riff.

This has been the hardest album review I’ve attempted so far in my *cough* career. Lately I’ve been seemingly inundated with so many stellar albums to potentially review that I’ve actually had to choose which ones to write about. This is neither stellar nor disappointing. It’s just a reliable Stone Sour record. Whether that’s a good thing or not is for you to decide. This won’t exactly rattle anybody’s cages or suddenly introduce Stone Sour to a new audience lapping at their feet. This won’t turn Stone Sour into a Slipknot in other words. But it’s undoubtedly a progression on their part. The problem the band faces is that they have always been just lightly tapping on the door of greatness, always seeming too afraid to boot the fucker down and take its inhabitants hostage. Don’t turn your back on Stone Sour just yet though. They’re getting there. And when it happens, you’ll be glad you didn’t give up on them. Guaranteed.

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