Sound — 8
It was twenty years ago that Big Wreck's debut seemed as promising as could be. Signing with Atlantic Records to release their freshman album, "In Loving Memory Of," as well as going on tour with the quintessential prog metal band Dream Theater shortly after, the Boston-born band's first steps indicated that the sky's the limit. But as quick as that initial boom was, a bust would come just as promptly - with their 2001 sophomore album, "The Pleasure and the Greed," failing to hit higher success than their previous album, they disbanded a year afterwards.
Only a handful of years ago did frontman Ian Thornley reunite with founding guitarist Brian Doherty to revamp Big Wreck. With their returning album, 2012's "Albatross," essentially rinsing Thornley's hard rock/post-grunge inclinations once again, Big Wreck expanded their sound more ambitiously in 2014's "Ghosts," going from stoner metal distortion and blues guitarwork, to working with acoustic folk arrangements.
Now on their fifth album, "Grace Street," Big Wreck take another hefty amount of time (over an hour long) to cover the numerous bases of their sound and more. Doling out heavy hard rockers like "Digging In" and the oddly-measured "Tomorrow Down," paying homage to classic rock in the well-layered "You Don't Even Know" and the shred-inspired acrobatics of "Skybunk Marche," and tending to their delicate acoustic gear in "Useless" and "The Receiving End," half of the album is spent ticking in the boxes expected of them.
However, the most definitive change "Grace Street" shows in Big Wreck's aural anatomy is an appeal to pop rock prettiness. Drawing the focus away from their usual gritty distortion in favor of shinier and sweeter guitars and synths, "Motionless" and "All My Fears on You" are the most direct of these examples, which harness a dream pop vibe to them. Big Wreck also mix these new tricks with their traditional traits, a hybrid that hits the mark in the Kings Of Leon-esque "One Good Piece of Me," whiffs in the adult contemporary mash of "Floodgates," and most impressively, fuses a MuteMath-style composition with artsy blues guitar soloing in "A Speedy Recovery." Thornley's vocals also play an integral part of this pop rock penchant, reaching higher in range often in "It Comes as No Surprise," "Useless," "Motionless," and the prog-tinged "The Arborist."
Lyrics — 8
Heavily inspired by his divorce a handful of years ago, Thornley's lyrics in "Grace Street" chronicle his grueling emotional journey in the wake of it. Though his first response to the end of that relationship is a resignation to the unfixable in "It Comes as No Surprise" ("We lived a lie on our own somehow / And help always comes much too late"), the turmoil promptly sinks in afterwards in "One Good Piece of Me" ("You were more than my whole world, it's all too real / As I'm falling through the halls inside your heart").
Trudging through the stages of relationship grief, Thornley's attempt to look to a future of reconciliation in "Tomorrow Down" ("Once in a while, when levity smiles / We're free to pick up the pieces") doesn't hold strong, and the barbs start coming out in "Useless" ("Now that it's an eye for an eye / We're bringing out the worst in you and I / Remember when we called it a home? / Now it seems like that was a lie"), "Motionless" ("We both know it's wrong, now it's fight or flight / How can I count the ways?"), and most explicitly, admonishes his ex-wife for rebound dating as a coping mechanism in "A Speedy Recovery" ("You don't need the risk babe, stay out of the water / You don't need the risk baby, think about your daughter"). Even though he identifies the negativity that he needs to overcome, Thornley articulates a feeling of being locked into fate, heard in "The Receiving End" ("I have the sword and pen / The past I can't rewrite / Now I'm on the receiving end / Of all these sweet stories") and "All My Fears On You" ("I'm turning every verse and chapter / I'm the author and the actor"), and ultimately, he doesn't find resolution just yet.
Overall Impression — 8
With Big Wreck's second life aspiring to always be moving forward, "Grace Street" is a substantial step for the band. Whereas their previous album's ample length wore out its welcome at moments, the sizable runtime in their new album feels more justified by the significant addition of new sonic dimensions for the band. And while there may not be as much hard rock punch in here as in previous albums, the melodious pop rock realm they work in makes for a satisfying change of pace.