Review Summary: Trouble picks up right where they left off in the mid-90's. Seriously.
Trouble pick up right where they left off in the mid-90’s, like the only thing separating their last recording and this new effort was an extended bout with the ‘bong’ in the back of some smoke-filled, black van. And, what is it about Trouble’s brand of Stoner/Doom that conjures up images of bongs and black vans anyway? It’s rather intangible, isn’t it? But, whatever ‘it’ is, it makes you want to indulge a little ‘green’ every time that CD goes in the deck and you hear this band churn out its patent low-rumble of dismal gloom. Which is a kind of strange and subversive effect to have on the audience since Trouble is an ‘out and open’ “Christian” Rock band. Notice that I didn’t say Christian-Rock band. But, one would need to dissect and liberally interpret (stretch) the lyrics to find a Christian slant for these guys. Their religious penchant is definitely not readily apparent in those fuzzy, low-end distorted guitars, that desperate and despairing vocal delivery, or the slightly muddy production value. The output of a model ‘C-R’ band is stereotypically uplifting and life-affirming. Trouble’s music, while being infectiously catchy, is still quite somber and even reminiscent of the unpleasant business of death. But, the incongruity between their beliefs and their actions doesn’t even really come across as hypocritical, just funny. And, even a tad funnier when high.
So, you would think that adhering to a secular path would have had a significant, positive impact on this band‘s overall career trajectory. But, you’d be wrong. After maxing out their initial sound on the Metal Blade label and wallowing in a three-year period of inactivity and inner turmoil, the band was snatched up by Rick Rubin and the Def American label in 1990. The result of this union was a more focused and refined sound for the band. Trouble retained its trademark thick and lumbering character, but now the tendency was towards experimentation. On the next three albums, the group would explore several different styles and manners of approach, directions which were not attempted on the first three recordings. Yet, disappointingly, the improvement in versatility and overall output would not translate into record sales. While the songwriting had been upgraded, and by a decent margin I think, it might have been at the expense of the band’s raw, primal and earthy power, which in turn might have accounted for the very essence of this band’s charm for many of the early fans. Also, this period of growth was made manifest during the height of the Grunge-era. And, during this timeframe, scores of young people were abandoning long-held tastes in favor of the leaders of this new genre. But, to my ears and eyes, the band’s failure to break out on an international level was more a matter of bad luck and poor publicity. I would agree with the commonly accepted ‘bad timing’ assessment, if not for Trouble’s core sound being highly compatible with Grunge’s own down-tuned sludge factor.
So, by 1995, and the release of their last album, ‘Plastic Green Head’, the band seemed to have all but one limb in the proverbial grave. A long period of inactivity would follow and no one in the Metal community would be anticipating any sort of reunion or creative resurgence for these guys, anytime soon. The band had reassembled for a few live gigs since the turn of the new millennium, but no word was forthcoming about a possible, new studio recording. Then, boom! Twelve years has passed and a new Trouble album was quietly unleashed upon the world. In many ways, ‘Simple Mind Condition’ is the logical descendant to Trouble’s self-titled, debut for Def American in 1990. Like that record, everything about this title screams of a carefully crafted success formula. The song-structuring, the riffs and lead-guitar work are all top-notch and produced with the highest of professionalism. But, at the same time, this collection is also fairly well balanced and representative of their career as a whole. Compare this record to those three early efforts for Metal Blade, and most definitely, you will see this material as a mainstreaming of the band’s sound. In contrast to those early recordings, one can actually picture a few of these songs released as singles. That is, if ‘mainstream radio’ had anything approaching real ‘taste’. Which it doesn’t. If the only Trouble you’re familiar with comes from the band’s first three outings, then you will , no doubt, have some catching up to do. The band isn’t as raw, heavy or bombastic as those early days. The vocals are now more refined, focused more on delivering the melody than on issuing yelps and pangs of anguish. And, whatever Glam influences were detectable on those early recordings, have now dissipated, in favor of much more groove-based fare.
The band’s overall sound on ’Simple Mind Condition’ can be summed up as Heavy, Groove-based Hard Rock, infused with Psychedelia. The reason that this type of music doesn’t necessarily strike me as ‘Heavy Metal’ per se, is due to it’s absence of those galloping, staccato rhythms, characteristic of the genre. This isn’t the brand of heavy music that Judas Priest patented and popularized in the 70’s, but rather, based on the model that Black Sabbath constructed. A behemoth, war machine which relies on the almighty power of “the riff”. Trouble’s ‘Simple Mind Condition’ is riff-based music, plain and simple. And, the guitars deliver another whole new crop of forceful and compelling riffs, which, when worked up together with the band, become well-tuned and towering monsters. That’s not to say that this music isn’t multi-dimensional. There’s plenty of interesting atmospheric bits and elements intruding from different disciplines to be had here. But, since this album is largely heavy, riff-based Hard Rock, it will appeal primarily to those of us who love classic Hard Rock/Metal bands, a la Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Kiss,…as well as being naturally alluring to both the Stoner and Doom sets. I stated above that ‘Simple Mind Condition’ can be see as a harkening back to the band’s debut with Def American. In the respect that this effort is also extremely well-crafted and full of enticing melodic hooks, this declaration is true. But, I expect this to be true on yet another level. In line with that very deserving 1990 album, I’ll bet that the majority of Hard Rock/Metal fans will unfairly overlook this one too. A bet made even safer by the fact that this recording is only available as an ‘Import’. Which is quite confounding, since Trouble happens to be from the U.S.