Review Summary: The Rifles have changed, and it's not for the best
Okay, I feel the need to throw a disclaimer out here: I like change in music. Change can be good. Who would want to listen to a band put out the same album year after year? We all value creativity and progression in a band’s career, and it’s something we come to expect from our favorite bands. With that being said, it's obviously important that a band makes the right changes. Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, and Arctic Monkeys are a few examples of English bands that have made the wrong changes over the course of their careers, abandoning what gave them character for a generic sound.
Well, you can go ahead and add The Rifles to that list.
I really hate having to say that, too. The Rifles. Standard-bearers for mod-revival. Hell, they can count Paul Weller, the Modfather himself, as a big fan. That's all in the past though. The Rifles, having lost the rhythm section (Rob Pyne and Grant Marsh) from their first two albums, have a much different sound on Freedom Run, and it's just not good.
The thing I loved about No Love Lost and The Great Escape is how punchy The Rifles sounded. Sure, they were playing simple music, but it was simple music done well. Joel Stoker's lyrics were catchy and smart, and the guitar work was always sharp and aggressive. Even when The Rifles tried to get serious, they still excelled. "Out in the Past" off The Great Escape still ranks as one of my favorite songs.
With Freedom Run, The Rifles, like many bands before them, try to add some pop to their sound. Don't get me wrong, I knew this album was going to be different. A band can't lose half of its members and maintain the same vibe. The Rifles were bound to change, but I was hoping they'd do a better job of it.
The beginning of Freedom Run is alright enough. "Long Walk Back" and "Tangled Up in Love" are catchy, but it's just not The Rifles. It sounds more like I'm listening to an orchestra with the occasional input from the band itself. This album is just too sweet. Everything about it is bright and happy, and by the end of the album, I was getting worn out from the pure poppiness.
Stoker's lyricism is still pretty good, but the sappiness just gets to be too much. Stoker always impressed me in the past with his talent for writing lyrics that just felt London. He had a knack for capturing the mundane aspects of every-day life in the big city and making them meaningful. He's written songs about love and happiness before, but his old work had that urban feeling to it that made it easy to relate to. On Freedom Run, Stoker definitely tries to move away from commonality and focuses on the important things in life. It's not bad, it’s just that I’ve heard all of this before. The beginning of the album is pretty strong, and the end is decent, with "Cry Baby" sticking out in particular. They do pop well, and the lyrics are endearing before it gets to be too much.
But my gripe isn't about the lyrics or the general feel of the album, even though it was feeling over-the-top by the end. The Rifles tried to go for the grandiose pop sound that has worked for some, and by all means, they do it pretty well. It's just that this album is simply not The Rifles. The reason they always stuck out to me is that they took what their mod forefathers gave them, put a modern twist on it, and did it well. With Freedom Run, they've moved away from what once made them unique, and to me, this album sounds like something any other band could have put out. I wouldn't say that The Rifles "sold out." Like I said, I expected them to change, and I like change. Problem is, they didn't change well.
Ignore the album cover: this isn't The Rifles anymore. If you want generic Britpop, then you'll be a big fan of this album. If you like witty mod-revival, come join me - I'll be in the back listening to their first two albums.