Sound — 6
Lifehouse are fairly veteran act at this point in their career. Having sold a combined 15 million records, with songs being featured in films and now with album number 7 under the belt, we now encounter their moving on from 2013's "Almeria" supposed misstep in terms of musical direction.
Now, it may be a bit weird having me review an album like this (for reference, Feared's "Synder"), but I've the heart and soul of a Russian bear dog. Not relevant really, but I wasn't sure what to finish that sentence with.
To business. Kicking off with single "Hurricane," we are immediately greeted with everything I presumed this album would be: Mega-produced, ultra dense modern pop rock that abuses the verse/chorus dynamic like it's free schnapps made of your feelings. Dramatic statements aside, if anything, this affirms is that "Almeria" is not repeating itself. I personally found it to be a rather so-so piece, one that can be listened to and forgotten again as soon as the album ends, but it's a functional single.
There is not a lot out of the ordinary on this album. You could listen to any of the most popular artists under the umbrella of "pop rock" and you'll get a very similar experience, which is the first major flaw of this album: there's not a lot that's very unique or distinct about it. This is coupled with the flipside, and I suppose the exception to the first flaw: it's comfortably diverse for a pop album.
Allow me to explain. Aside from the ambiguous term "pop rock," Lifehouse go into some more mature territory. Songs like "Flight" and "Central Park" are complete breakaways from that media-assigned description, with "Flight" being an admittedly gripping piano-based ballad with fantastic production and "Central Park" having more sombre, more narratively realistic musical and lyrical themes... and a chord progression that's actually interesting. Finisher "Hourglass" feels like it was written for a film, being a very whimsical, delicately crafted piece that reflects how many people had their hands on writing and performing it (a butt-ton, if Wikipedia is to be believed).
This brings us to the second flaw, in that there is still some merit to the Phil Spector quote, an album is "2 hits and ten pieces of junk." Or in this case, 1 hit and some other okay songs with a bunch of really ineffectual stuff in between. "One for the Pain" is one of the more immediately noticeable pieces: I felt like I was continuously listening to a television advert the entire way. "Wish" is an acoustic piece given way more production attention than it really needs for its short length, with a string section and "filmic" chord progression that could work if it wasn't the same sort of progression that evokes the feeling of "rom-com."
"Stardust" had the potential to be a really excellent track, but a very questionable chord change to a specific major chord (around about where the dude sings "but there's still time") completely derails any of the tracks original build up, making it softer, safer, just very slightly definitely disappointing. Not to mention, it sounds like a completely different band wrote and performed it, maybe that's why it held my attention... dunno, moving on and so forth.
I think the strongest point of this album is the depth of its mix, and how that mix makes "Out of the Wasteland" sound more than it actually is (in a vague sense, I can't quite extrapolate that point without going on a rambling tangent).
Despite a lot of the music being a teensy bit limp, there's a lot of space and atmosphere to this record. I think this is best exemplified in "Central Park" where... the guitar is a gentle ambient instrument drenched in spacious FX, a light piano hits all the right notes, you get the right images of rainy days and dreamy visual sequences that are brought on purely by the music itself, regardless of lyrics (which, in combination, are more an added bonus).
Lyrics — 5
Jason Wade is, I imagine, a very strong live performer who could probably take an acoustic guitar and be fine with just that on stage. But it bemuses me when a capable individual is given the indignity of having their recorded performance mired by pitch correction. It's "Lily Allen Syndrome" as I think of it.
It is uncomfortably present on this album. With mega-production comes mega-circumvention. Aside from the more gentle tracks ("Flight," "Hourglass") where it's least apparent/not really there, the 3 stack of addled, crafted vocal layers on Wade's voice is to the detriment of the otherwise stellar production and a decent vocal performance.
Lyrically, I hate to use the phrase "small minds speak of people," but not once does a lyrical theme from this album deviate from the literal concept of Jason Wade. Every song is an "I did thing" or an "I must [future tense verb]," "I this, I that, you [descriptive analogy]" and other petty generalizations.
Nothing against the guy, despite my dislike of the lyrical themes, and I'm sure fans of the band or genre are fine listening to the more "person-centric" lyrical themes, but just once, I would oh-so-wish for something just a bit more refreshing for the brain from popular acts that wasn't about dancing around, sad relationships or dancing around in sad relationships.
Overall Impression — 5
I feel like this is an album that isn't going to pick up Lifehouse's strength, in terms of music. It's just not strong enough in itself. There's diversity but it's not quite refined enough to make a forward movement. However, I think production wise, it's still very good, makes the good songs what they are and makes the bad songs, at the least, somewhat bearable if not really being able to bring then up beyond that. Would recommend if you like the band, otherwise, I'll use an indistinct onomatopoeic noise like "myuuuehh" to sum up how I feel about it.
Songs to look out for: "Flight," "Central Park," "Hourglass."