Review Summary: This is a move Radin had to make sooner or later, but this time the results are very average.
Joshua Radin has always been a poor man’s Elliott Smith – from the gently whispered vocals to the lyrical content, his acoustic atmospheres were what you might call Gray’s Anatomy
music. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Some of his earlier melodies, like “Winter” and “Closer” are absolutely breathtaking. But unfortunately, as Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), John Vesely (Secondhand Serenade), and a number of other exclusively acoustic artists found out, the effect is very difficult to keep fresh. In what appears to be a preemptive strike against becoming stale, Joshua Radin pulls out all the stops with his newest record, The Rock and the Tide
One thing fans will immediately notice about the album is how Radin introduces an entire array of new instruments. The opening track “Road to Ride On” commences with heavier drums, more electric guitars than acoustic ones, and a bouncy, upbeat atmosphere. It actually sounds more like something that would open a Killers album than a Joshua Radin album, but he still manages to pull it off quite well. He fuses a more energetic sound with optimistic lyrics that serve as a metaphor for the new path his music is taking, “Turn the light on, give us road to ride on / help ensure survival / now there’s a new day, sing with us a new way
.” The song sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album, and many of the tracks that follow attempt to emulate its sound. Unfortunately, most of those efforts are futile.
The majority of the time, Radin’s melodies simply fail to be as interesting as the music. “Here We Go”, for instance, emanates from a style similar to the opener. It features a heavily synthesized drum beat that dictates the song’s tempo, but, like a lot of the album’s attempts to beef things up, it ends up sounding boring, predictable, and contrived. “Nowhere to Go”, “You’re Not as Young”, and “Wanted” all suffer the same fate, with faster, more attractive tempos that lack bottom-line substance. Radin seems content here to settle for marginally intriguing lyrics and half-sung/half-muttered verses that do nothing to make the listener feel any kind of emotion. Considering that melody and lyrics were always his greatest strengths, The Rock and the Tide
drops the ball noticeably outside of a couple of standout songs that either (a) feature a delectable chorus or (b) revert to the primarily acoustic atmosphere of his prior works. For instance, “We Are Only Getting Better” succeeds because it possesses a memorable chorus that matches the song’s tempo, and “Think I’ll Go Inside” features intricate acoustic guitar picking that plays to Radin’s greatest strength: his soft, sensitive vocals and lyrics. The rest of the time, one is left to wonder if Radin himself will ever step up to match the instrumental portions of his songs. More often than not, he simply bores the listener
The Rock and the Tide
is by no means a complete failure, though. As I mentioned before, songs like “Road to Ride On” and “We Are Only Getting Better” see Radin successfully combine his trademark soft-rock vocals with greater instrumental variety and a faster tempo. He also has a few instances in which he recreates his vintage, completely acoustic sound. The vast majority of the The Rock and the Tide
, however, meanders through run of the mill hooks and pedestrian lyrics. This is a move Radin had to make sooner or later, but this time the results are very average.