Review Summary: Blue October makes an eye opening progressive rock album, fusing everything from classic rock to hip-hop in what amounts to a refreshing change of pace for the band after six studio albums.
Blue October’s music always leaned towards the risk-taking side, with influences dipping into every genre from metal/hard rock to pop and R&B. There were never any rigid boundaries with their creative direction, and even though they may have made a few enemies with the overwhelmingly accessible albums Foiled
and Approaching Normal
, they still for the most part have a dedicated following that supports them one hundred percent. Perhaps that support was the catalyst behind the band’s wild departure from the norm, as their latest LP ventures even further into the pop/R&B side of their sound. I mean hell, there are sections on here comprised of straight up rap
– think Rivers Cuomo on Weezer’s Red Album
, though…not real
rap. Anyhow, with this rock outfit’s latest, Genesis quality power ballads are bestowed upon us, followed up by foot-tap inducing electro-pop. We are given growling rockers, heart-on-your-sleeve ballads, pop-rock, and boy bands. There is no shortage of entertainment as Blue October intentionally makes an even larger stride into the mainstream spotlight, and despite the wholesale changes, they make nary a misstep while retaining their wholly recognizable sound. In other words, this is selling out at its best.
Remember songs like ‘Hate Me’ and ‘18th Floor Balcony’, which exuded a feverish angst and depression that were unshakably poignant? There is very little of that here, which in itself may present Any Man In America
’s most disappointing facet. Traditionally, this is a band that has offered up some of alt-rock’s most vivid images of disgust and self-loathing, along with tales of dysfunctional relationships and unmendable heartbreak. The band’s sixth LP isn’t without its moments of lyrical accomplishment, but for the most part, it is their weakest effort to date in that department. You wouldn’t know it from the record’s gushingly romantic opener, however, as ‘The Feel Again’ tugs at your heart strings with passages like, “I see the sun go up as your image / And I feel the weight of your eyes as you stare / I feel it all when you, when you first, when you kissed my lips / You used to make me feel at home, you made me feel at home, you made me feel again.” With a sound that blends Rod Stewart’s romantic desperation and Genesis’ sense of atmospheric urgency, this is easily the best song on the album. While Any Man In America
stays pretty consistent across the board in terms of musical quality, the lyrics become questionable and at times even cringe-worthy, such as the title track’s awkward reference to Martin Luther King and the excerpt from ‘The Worry List’, “This is what my story's about / I might have been gone but I never walked out / I'm packin' it up, and I'm comin' today.” Maybe even the best writers out there suffer from a case of the clichés when an album takes a hard mainstream turn, but the odd thing is that Blue October was kind of already at that point. Make of it what you will, but the band’s lyrics aren’t the deal breaker on Any Man In America
that they were on previous works in their discography.
The real attraction here is the bombastic sound and glorified production that allows Blue October’s music to finally match their moxie. This has always been a group with ambition, and even with the way that Foiled
yielded hit after hit (‘Into The Ocean’, just to name one), there was always the feeling that they had a bit of an eccentric side that wasn’t being put up to its full, grandiose potential. Almost as if front man Justin Furstenfeld took a hammer to Blue October and shattered it into multiple pieces of “genre chunks”, Any Man In America
is eclectic in the purest sense of the word. ‘The Money Tree’ is an insanely infectious blend of half-rapped, half-sung pop, driven by strings and a catchy, optimistic sounding electronic backbeat. ‘For The Love’ and ‘Drama Everything’ are subdued songs more along the lines of traditional Blue October, but they also possess a sleek pop/R&B sound that matches the rest of the album’s tone. ‘The Chills’ is a straightforward rocker, with an aggressive vocal edge and shrieking guitar riffs that lie somewhere between melodic and blistering. All three of these tracks, while obviously different in sound and songwriting premise, comprise three of Any Man In America
’s brightest shining tracks (and all three have high upside as singles). Even though some of the rapped verses in tracks like ‘The Flight’ take things too far for Blue October, they manage to be completely consistent and entertaining as a whole. In essence, it is the album’s ability to be widely inclusive yet so unexpectedly cohesive that makes it an unequivocally fun experience, not to mention an absolute pleasure to listen to.
With all of the welcome adjustments Blue October brought on board this time around, it is difficult to label Any Man In America
anything other than progressive. It isn’t progressive like Dream Theater is, obviously, because the band doesn’t aim to fulfill any obligatory aspect of the genre’s requirements. There is no need for constant time signature and momentum changes, nor is there a feeling of pressure at all on this band to do anything that lasts in excess of ten minutes. This is progressive in a much better sense of the word: it expands Blue October’s horizons to include rap, hip-hop, and R&B characteristics while still retaining the main aspects of their personality that fans adore. Blue October is changing as they see fit whilst allowing their music to mold itself accordingly, and the result is their strongest release to date.