Sound — 7
FUEL made it big in 1996 when "Shimmer" hit radio stations nationwide. They gained momentum on the airwaves and, in 1998, FUEL released their debut album Sunburn. In 2000, FUEL increased their following by releasing their sophomore effort Something Like Human. This album helped FUEL reach certified double-platinum status. Fuel entered the studio again in 2003 to assemble their third record Natural Selection. Natural Selection was not as well-received and the band began to falter.
Drummer Kevin Miller was ousted in 2004 and then, singer/guitarist Brett Scallions split in 2006 when guitarist/songwriter Carl Bell denied Scallions creative input. Bell held on to Fuel and Tommy Stewart (Godsmack) and Chris Daughtry (American Idol) were chosen by Bell to fill the spots left vacant. Daughtry declined and Stewart had prior commitments. Tommy Lee (Motley Crue) and Josh Freese (The Vandals, Nine Inch Nails, Devo etc. Fill-in) assisted Bell in recording a new album for 2007. Toryn Green (Something to Burn) was announced as Scallions' replacement in early 2007 and Angels & Devils was released in August of that year but failed to exceed expectations of surpassing Natural Selection sales.
Scallions began touring in 2010 with multiple musicians under the name Re-Fueled. Collaborations with Krieger, Yogi Lonich, Ken Schalk, and Brian Keeling, along with constant members Andy Andersson, Brad Stewart, and Shannon Boone allowed Scallions to envision a new Fuel. He and his fellow bandmates worked vigorously for four years to create an outline for an eventual new Fuel album. On March 4, 2014, Puppet Strings was released.
Lyrics — 8
1. "Yeah!" - This thunderous groove blasts "Puppet Strings" off the launchpad and will appeal to fans of southern rock. Modernized bluesy riffs are hammered throughout this tune and give you a good idea of what is in store for the rest of this album. Played live, this song would invite crowd participation. Scallions declares, "If you want it all from me, Just ask me one more time - I'll say YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! You know I'll say YEAH! (YEAH!)"
2. "Soul to Preach To" - This song is the first single from "Puppet Strings." Fuel continues to broaden their horizons here with a gritty acoustic riff pattern and some crunchy electric guitar licks as well that stay on the southern rock path. The bridge of the song is particularly gloomy. It has that dark, howling guitar accompaniment Fuel has previously showcased, along with the lines: "Can't you see the dead's alive? - Read the blood between the lines and I'll be there - Can't you feel me petrified? - Pull me in and show reality for me is only just a dream."
3. "Hey Mama" - Fuel gives us yet another song with southern-rock roots. An acoustic guitar with a tremendous amount of twang rings throughout the track. The use of a slide also comes into play which is unconventional compared to previous Fuel songs. There is significant country influence present on this track. If Scallions' vocals were snipped from this song, it would be reminiscent of The Black Crowes. There are plenty of unique riffs, but the lyrics remain simple and uncomplicated: "Hey Mama, won't you give a little bit of your time to me? - 'Cuz I've been standing here for so long, waiting for your love to cover me."
4. "Time for Me to Stop" - Scallions resurrects the "Sunburn" era with this electrifying anthem. Loud, quick riffs lash out and keep the throttle floored. Also, uncanny of previous Fuel outings, this song has an explicit line: "But I never seem to get my f--king story straight - How could I possibly, with all the lies put on display?" Another particular line that reveals Scallions' compelling writing abilities goes: "I'm not the kind of monster I appear to be - My moves tell the story just like I want you to see."
5. "Wander" - This track slows the pace of the album. Much like "Soul to Preach To," this chorus is basically a two-liner: "As you wander through the world - Just carry all the words to heart." This one is relatively mellow but contains some unorthodox lyrics: "Even though your house is made of stone, The wolves will still get in." The same sound Fuel composed on "Natural Selection" lies just beneath the surface of this particular number.
6. "Cold Summer" - Brett Scallions has stated that this song was written in the early 2000's but was never recorded as he was not entirely sure he liked the song well enough. "Puppet Strings" producer, Eddie Wohl, heard Scallions play the tune and elected to include it on the album. If "Cold Summer" could have been recorded around the "Something Like Human" era, it would have certainly made the cut. This song is truly a testament to Scallions' talent as a musician and songwriter: "The tethered lines fell down on me - Crushed and despised from you - The future for us seems so bleak - But I fight for that, too."
7. "I Can See The Sun" - This ballad sounds familiar to the Fuel of old. Fans of "Natural Selection" will appreciate this song because it maintains a slow, melodic pattern from start to finish. On the surface, the chorus is relatively soft and soothing. But, Scallions' choice of lyrics have a deeper meaning: "It's been too long since I found love - Let me raise you up from here - Because I love this more than all those lonely years… And I can see the sun in you."
8. "Puppet Strings" - In early 2013, Fuel posted a handful of videos on the web, taking the viewer behind the scenes into the studio where they laid down the guitar, drums, and vocals. Robby Krieger makes a special guest appearance on this track and his contribution adds yet another new element to the sound of Fuel. The structure of this song is quite different from what Fuel has offered in the past. "It's not enough to care - It's not enough to know me - If you could only give me something - I'd be your everything" may sound cliche, but this is a genuine rock song.
9. "Headache" - Multiple versions of the 2010-2014 Fuel lineup performed this song throughout their small tours and fan videos of the song started surfacing on the internet back in 2011. The rapid drumming, thrashing guitar riffs, and raspy vocals raise the intensity of this album to its peak. It could easily be considered the hardest hitting song on "Puppet Strings" with a fierce chorus: "Headache! Heartache! Run away from everything! - Headache! Heartache! Headache! Run away from everything! Headache!"
10. "What We Can Never Have" - The first 60 seconds of this song are eerie. An acoustic guitar keeps rhythm while an electric guitar howls and weeps in the hollow background. This song manifests an Old West-style atmosphere and the lyrics that flow along with it are ghostly. "Locked inside the dark I have a secret buried deep - I wish that I could tell you but it's forever mine to keep" is just the beginning. The chorus sneaks in at roughly two and a half minutes and leads into a smashing outro as Scallions wails "But I'll always love what we had - And I'll always miss what we had - But we always love what we can never have."
Overall Impression — 7
"Puppet Strings" was a group effort of all musicians involved and there are plenty of surprises in store for fans who are accustomed to previous Fuel outings. While Brett has revived some of the sound Fuel became known for from the early-to-mid 2000's, he adds his own unique style to "Puppet Strings" which will allow for future Scallions-led Fuel albums to be even more creative and daring. Scallions proves that his imaginative input is valuable and that Fuel still has the ability to extend their fanbase even farther. All former members were a large part of Fuel's success, but Scallions, Andersson, Stewart, and Boone have breathed new life into a dying genre of rock. The innovative rock sound of the late '90s and early 2000's has rarely been replicated in recent years. If you don't find the album impressive, you will at least find it nostalgic.