Sound — 6
Although there has been chatter that Lifehouse's latest album Smoke & Mirrors would possibly delve into more of a classic rock sound, the new material is still fodder although pleasant fodder for pop radio stations. That's not to say that the Los Angeles quartet can't write a catchy tune because they very much can. The issue is that many of the tracks on Smoke & Mirrors do have a similar arrangement (and melody at times) to the past hit singles You and Me and First Time. Anyone looking for a huge stretch will likely be disappointed, but the band should still find at least a few of the tracks placing impressive ranks on the Billboard charts.
The album starts out very much in the vein of First Time with the track All In, an up-tempo pop offering with an instantly hummable chorus. Halfway Gone is a bit more laid-back in its approach, but it still has enough hooks and infectious backing whoas in the chorus to set it apart. Smoke & Mirrors finds a nice balance between feel-good pop rock and straightforward ballad work, which again, makes sense for a band that has found a comfortable niche in the music industry.
There is a bit of teasing in the sense that there are moments that you think Lifehouse is going to deliver something insanely out of the ordinary. The band does have its moments, but they tend to be fleeting. Nerve Damage stands out as being one of the most adventurous musical ventures at least in terms of Lifehouse. Beginning with nothing but vocals and a guitar with a fairly clean tone, you almost get the sense this is going to be an all-out ballad. When the chorus approaches, however, the song does take a turn for a more rock-oriented sound, and there's even a slightly bluesy solo within the track. By far the most interesting track is Here Tomorrow, which tweaks the vocals and even includes an effect that sounds akin to a sitar. Both Nerve Damage and Here Tomorrow are satisfying offerings, and Lifehouse would be doing itself a favor by tackling more unique arrangements.
Lyrics — 7
The band's fifth album contains most of the same themes that we've heard on past recordings, with relationships and love definitely taking the central focus. There is a common approach to most of the songs, which certainly should appeal to the specific fan base the band has already accrued over the years. Whether it's about general reflection on a relationship in peril like in the title track (Now the days roll hard and the nights move fast; They say be careful what you wish; But having everything means nothing to me now; What we had, everything I miss) or, well, even more heartache in By Your Side (I'll be by your side, when all hope has died; I will still be around oh and I, I'm still on your side), Lifehouse has the market cornered on love-related material.
Overall Impression — 6
Smoke & Mirrors is a likeable album, but it sounds like so much of what we already hear on pop rock radio. You could certainly draw comparisons to David Cook or Daughtry, and the latter artist actually makes a guest appearance on the track Had Enough. If you've been a fan of Lifehouse's past Billboard hits, you'll easily find Smoke & Mirrors a perfect next step for the band. At times the album is simply just too predictable, however, and you leave wishing that the band would take a few more chances.