Sound — 4
Spoken - a product of Arkansas, rapcore, and Christian rock formed in the late '90s and gained footing with a relentless performance schedule and rapid releases through Metro 1 Music. As the 2000s opened, their sound evolved into a more radio-friendly, hands-off post-hardcore. The band's first release under Tooth & Nail, "A Moment Of Imperfect Clarity" sported a melodic form of the genre. Its comparatively glistening production and singer Matt Baird's countertenor invited a more pop-friendly audience than much of the hardcore community. 2005's "Last Chance To Breathe" continues the brushstroke with perhaps a slightly dulled palate. "Last Chance To Breathe" opens with the decidedly tame "September", which familiarizes itself with Spoken's hardcore buddyship early on. The track is as sweeping and as intense as Spoken gets, and its finale blasts into the rest of the record in a fury of power chords and Baird's decent-enough scream. The rest of the record is of about the same caliber. While the band certainly never steps down, they never step up after the opener. "Love In Return" is a nice breather, but the "two loud tracks, one quiet track" formula seems to be on the cheat sheet for a fair few of these smaller bands. Bizarrely, "Everything Is Burning" follows up with a vocal melody nearly identical to "Love In Return". Without any connective tissue between the tracks, it comes off as merely incidental. For a band with four releases under its belt, however, it's distressing. The back half of the record is as castrated as the first; there are certainly a few good opening measures, but once the verses begin, the songs essentially end. As early as "1992" and only broken by the rapcore "Bitter Taste", it really puts a quick stop to an album seeping with potential. "From The Inside" once again slows things down (gotta meet the two slow tracks quota!). As in the case of "Love In Return", it's a nice idea that goes absolutely nowhere. "4th Street" and the cover of "Time After Time" are bizarrely upbeat for closing tracks, and "You're Still Waiting"... Sounds exactly like "September". Perhaps the band had just heard Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and decided that beginning and ending an album with the same sound was a good way to go. Furthermore, it seems they misinterpreted the idea. It's bizarre, to say the least, and hardly feels like an ending. To the same extent, the album doesn't have any sort of definitive progression. As far as hardcore goes, Spoken is at the pacifist end of the gene pool. The music isn't particularly driven, the instrumentation is typical, and the song-to-song construction is sub-par. Far from the roots of D.O.A. and Black Flag, "Last Chance To Breathe" sounds more like a brighter incarnation of Rise Against. Devoid of the genre's typical power and extremism, Spoken borders on being difficult to sit through without popping in Rorschach or Avail.
Lyrics — 3
Singer and, presumably, songwriter Baird is the human representation of his band's mutilation of hardcore. Even under pleasant melodies ("Love In Return") and genuinely motivated howls ("Bitter Taste"), the itch to move on seldom subsides. He has exciting moments, notably in "September", "Everything Is Burning", and "Bitter Taste", but they are the exception, rather than the rule. To put it shortly, the man is simply boring. His range is admirable, but he brings little personality to the music and little meaning to the lyrics. On that note, Spoken is as dull in lyricism as in musicianship. Though they thankfully avoid the typical Christian rock tendency to overstate (or simply repeat) religious messages, the imagery of "A Moment Of Imperfect Clarity" is entirely gone. In some ways, this allows "Last Chance To Breathe" more intimate moments than its predecessor, but it clashes so dramatically with the music that the improvements matter little. "I gave you my heart/I gave everything to you" and other stereotypes of emotive lyricism are all over this album; it may have even invented a few cliches along the way. Little of it is inspiring, less of it is interesting, and none of it is new.
Overall Impression — 2
Spoken has never been a groundbreaking act, and their resultant obscurity is well-deserved. The move to Tooth & Nail Records was arguably a profoundly bad move for a band based in rapcore; it has resulted in material as dull and done-to-death as some of the film work of the '40s. Spoken are the epitome of everything still wrong with the Christian rock industry, even eight years after its release: there simply isn't leg room for "risque" genres. If acts like Skillet hadn't paved the way (albeit in equally conventional fashion), who knows how much further Spoken would've gone to get on the label. "Last Chance To Breathe", ironically, was Spoken's final breath before extinguishing entirely for 2007's self-titled release. There is simply no life in this band.