Sound — 7
For those of you concerned that Blue October's latest album Approaching Normal is filled songs that focus on vocalist Justin Furstenfeld's new, more positive outlook on life, don't worry too much yet. While there are songs that were obviously written after the birth of his daughter, Blue, the glimpses at happiness and peace of mind are still few and far between. If you've been a fan of Blue October since they formed in 1995, you probably already know what this means: Furstenfeld still has plenty of demons to exorcise. Approaching Normal is an album with many ups and downs, both musically and lyrically. From the opening track Weight Of The World, it's evident that there is still plenty of passion within Furstenfeld. The slow, musical build-up in the beginning is highly effective, particularly when out of nowhere you get an explosion of distortion and Furstenfeld bellows. A little more than halfway through, the broken side of Furstenfeld appears in all of it's glory. It gets slightly overdramatic in those moments thanks to some over-the-top shouting, but if you like that no-holds-barred candor in Blue October, you'll love Weight Of The World. The first single Dirt Room is welcomed with open arms, particularly because it's not necessarily the typical autobiographical track. Dealing with the general topic of not playing the victim, it's one of the few songs on the album that could rely on musical content alone. Dirt Floor features an instantly memorable chorus, and is actually one of the most energetic, rock-oriented songs on the album. The themes on the album don't always necessitate Blue October to go in a harder, riff-driven direction, and Dirt Floor provides a much-needed change of pace from the low-key content on Approaching Normal. There are a couple issues that keep Approaching Normal from reaching the quality of Foiled. On one hand you have songs like Been Down or Kangaroo Cry, which are lyrically strong and convey powerful messages. If that's enough for a listener, there won't be any problems. However, the musical aspect of those songs doesn't always make for the most unique listening experience. In contrast, Furstenfeld gets it absolutely correct with My Never another heart-wrenching song in which many moments are essentially stripped down to just his vocals and a guitar. There is an eerie quiet that is present, and it makes for a much powerful song. If there is one song that should divide the most listeners, it's Jump Rope. It hit's you like a ton of bricks because, well, it's just one happy-go-lucky little number. Undoubtedly inspired by Furstenfeld's daughter in some right, Jump Rope borders on being annoying with all of the repeating up and down lyrics. I'm sure that kids will love this one because the whole arrangement is tailored for that audience, but it's just a monster leap from your typical Blue October fare.
Lyrics — 9
Love him or hate him, Justin Furstenfeld is one of the most honest songwriters out in rock today. You could accuse him of being selfish or whining, but essentially every song in the world is relaying some sort of personal emotion and he just takes it to the next level. You get another heavy helping of Furstenfeld's world on Approaching Normal, from the lovesick My Never to the political/social/possibly 9/11-related Kangaroo Cry to overt self-reflection in Weight Of The World. If you are able to obtain the explicit version of Approaching Normal, the bonus track The End will throw you for a loop. That is one song that is not so much about unrequited love as it is about stalking and/or voyeurism. And amazingly, it's one of the most interesting songs on the entire album.
Overall Impression — 8
Approaching Normal is somewhat inconsistent, and it's very possible that it's indeed because Furstenfeld is finding himself now that's he a father. The musical aspect does tend to get hidden in the background through it all, and that's unfortunate particularly when you have talented players like violinist Ryan Delahoussaye at your disposal. Songs like Dirt Floor, My Never, and The End are strong musically and lyrically, and it's obvious that band can still churn out hit's in those cases. What should likely grab the attention of fans more than any musical inconsistency, however, is the fact that Furstenfeld is changing his lyrical scope. Jump Rope and Blue Does are indications that the fatherly side of the singer is taking over. While that's a great personal step for the singer, some fans might eventually miss all of the drama.