Review Summary: The pretty damn good, the rather average and the so very ugly
For Placebo fans curious as to what Steve Hewitt would do next, having left the band in 2007, this would be the album that answered their questions, and probably turned a few heads, as Hewitt had never performed any vocal or guitar duties during the ten or so years he spend in the band with Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal. Yet, this is what he opted to do, coming out from behind the drum kit to front his own band, releasing an album a year after Placebo's lacklustre first album without him (discounting the self-titled debut album) in 2009. Unfortunately this album does little to show he's any better off without them than they are without him.
Not that you'd have that impression to begin with, in fact the album starts off very well indeed. Opener and lead single So Sad (Fade)
features dizzying lead guitars encircling a thuggish and infectuous verse riff, which the chorus deviates from effectively. It's a brilliantly well formed song, and is followed suitably by Alone
, a more poppy effort where Hewitt's often hushed vocals fit in with the strident guitar figures well. This also was released as a single, and deservedly so.
It seems to be going well as Running
comes in with excitable palm muted guitar playing builds up amidst screeching feedback. However, the riff born out of the intro doesn't really explode the way one would hope, and Hewitt's vocals this time add very little, copying the over-used verse riff note for note, and are barely there in the chorus. There's some wonderfully dark atmospheric sounds going on throughout, but it dissapoints after such a strong opening duo.
Things get all dark and moody from here, and continue this way for several songs. Heaven And Hell
suffers similarly to its predecessor, with repetition taking the value out of an initially strong musical idea, and with a good verse melody contrasted with a limp chorus. By now one also starts to wish that occasionally they'd throw in a chorus more substantial than merely a single line using words from the title repeated over and over. Come On Say It
is not the ideal next track as it doesn't change the mood, but it's a stronger effort, with the vocals this time blending very well indeed with some lovely bass work and lush guitar feedback and string textures rising and falling effectively, though the track remains somewhat bloated at nearly 7 minutes.
Away From Me
is much of the same, though the vocals are more lifted and it even attempts to build up to something towards the end, though there's not much of a progression from start to finish. It's a decent enough song but the album's momentum seems to have all but dissipated by now, compared to the adrenaline rush of So Sad
. In fairness, Blood And Earth
does respond in kind, but it's little more than some unimaginative guitar riffing and forgettable vocal parts. Compared to the opener, it's a very average song, and doesn't refresh the listener before yet more dark atmospheric work with Truth
, which whilst pretty similar to tracks 4 through 6, at least mixes it up a little with some powerful, yet brief, guest vocals, and a few chord changes.
After this point, it just gets weird. Home
gets oddly Muse like in the chorus parts, whilst the verses are fairly non existent. The disco beat drums and bass work lend the song something rhythmically, but other than that it's fairly repetitious and forgettable. As for the finale, Love Song
... the lyrical setiments and harmonised vocals are so cheesy, and the vocal delivery so straight-faced and serious, that I find it impossible to listen to with a straight face. It's the auditory equivalent of a particularly cloying Valentine's Day card from someone you just don't really find attractive. Maybe for some, there's value in its unintentional humour, or perhaps some will find it cute, but suffice to say it ends the album on a particularly bad note.
Love Amongst Ruin's debut then is a confusing mix of brilliance, mediocrity and something downright terrible. Too often songs feature great musical ideas that are marred by repetition and/or vocals that add nothing to the track, an issue unlikely to resolve itself any time soon as Hewitt is the star of the show. Ultimately the album is saved by the few songs that find the elements of the band all working in sync, and to great effect, but these moments are too rare. The mastery of atmospheric guitar playing and the strength of many of the riffs present are enough to suggest this band can do much better, especially if Hewitt can improve his vocals enough to lift the songs where sometimes he sorely needs to. Here's hoping.