Review Summary: Stabbing Westward whole-heartedly embrace radio rock and attempt to fully break into the mainstream market.
When a band that has already released a few albums decides to release a self-titled album it’s generally the first sign that they’re attempting to redefine themselves and change their sound (Metallica
, for example). Shortly before this album was released an interview with Chris Hall (vocals) prepared everyone for the changes that they should expect to hear. He spoke about how Stabbing Westward
wrote such great pop-rock songs but that they had always ended up making them ugly by adding effects, screaming, etc. On this album, he warned, they decided to write what they wanted regardless of fan expectations.
The self-titled album they released on unsuspecting fans featured a radical departure from even their most radio-friendly songs of the past. The emotion in Chris Hall’s voice was still present and the same lyrical ideas were still being used, but without any anger or aggression and with a whole lot more vulnerability. Also, the industrial influences of the past were almost entirely wiped away (with the song "Television" being the sole exception), and were replaced with actual keyboard melodies and sounds. Like a lot of fans, I hated this album when I first heard it. It wasn’t what I expected - it was too poppy and it was so catchy. They had replaced the anger and despair of the first three albums with hurt and regret and I wasn’t having it.
After a year or so, I threw it back on and listened to it on its own merit and was surprised to find that I liked what I was hearing. Within the first minute of the first track, you can tell that this isn’t the same Stabbing Westward that had released Darkest Days
a few years prior. This was subdued, melodic and safe. Musically the raging guitars had been dulled down to radio friendly levels and the electronics had been dropped completely. On past albums there was always an emphasis on having a catchy chorus but now it seemed like it was the central focus of the songs. Even more surprising to fans would be the eventual realization that the opening track is the closest thing to the past that they were going to get.
The next few tracks only reinforced the idea that this album was ushering in a changed band with "Perfect,” "I Remember" and "Wasted" coming off as even more subdued and melodic than the opener. These songs dropped the distorted guitar completely and replaced it with clean-sounding electric guitars as well as an abundance of acoustic guitars. Chris Hall’s vocals also didn’t have any anger in them at all. They sounded depressed, as if all the fight had finally been taken out of him. After those tracks comes the only song from Stabbing Westward I’ve ever truly disliked; "Happy". It is just far too upbeat and they didn't pull off that vibe at all. The main reason they failed with this song is that the music is so poppy and happy and the lyrics are depressing. The problem is that they don’t successfully make those two elements work together and it ruins the song.
With all the changes since their last album, what's left is a catchy album that has more in common with Goo Goo Dolls
than the industrialized influences of their past. Almost entirely gone are the distorted, dark guitars, replaced with acoustic guitars and an overall warmer electric guitar sound. Also, Chris sings through the entire album without any yelling at all. Only his ability to convey emotion, and the slight edge still retained on a few songs stands between them and becoming just another Goo Goo Dolls or Tonic of the music world. So, if you liked the single "What Do I Have to Do" off of Stabbing Westward’s second album but thought everything else was too dark or heavy than this is the album that you’re looking for. For everyone else that were already fans, go into this album with an open mind and you’ll discover a pretty good album.