Review Summary: Though the band's self-proclaimed return to their roots supplies some solid tracks, it seems that their roots may be starting to dry up.
Seriously... How many bands can simultaneously release a #1 mainstream rock single and avoid hate from Sputnik commenters?
Chevelle has gained, and earned, respect from the musical community for their commitment to their true sound. After 12 years since their first album, each album since has seen modifications (but not exactly revolutions) in their sound. It's not a secret that Chevelle releases a set of 11 hard-rocking, radio-friendly(ish) tracks with crunchy guitar, impassioned vocals, and somewhat dark atmospherics every two years or so. Their latest effort, "Hats off to the Bull," certainly doesn't change this formula. Though the band's self-proclaimed return to their roots kicks some serious ass along the way, it seems safe to say that their roots may be starting to dry up; the pros and cons of the band are becoming a little too familiar
Let's not kid ourselves: This band isn't defined by its rhythm section. I've listened to this album 5 times now and I cannot identify anything particularly interesting about Sam Loeffler's performance behind the drum kit. The high-energy rocker "Piñata" shows some quasi-interesting fills, but seriously Sam. It's time to let loose a little bit. On the bass guitar, Dean Bernandini's basslines have two purposes: they either provide a rollicking drive to the song ("Ruse," "The Meddler," "Hats off to the Bull") or just take a complete backseat, going along hand-in-hand with the guitar. But, these generalizations can be applied to any Chevelle album. So, per usual, the album's success depends on Pete Loeffler's guitar, vocals, and songwriting.
Here, we see a shift of focus away from the riffing. Though the album is bookended by two riff-focused tunes, gone is the nasty crunch of a "Family System" or a "Comfortable Liar." Gone are the catchy head-banging riffs of "Antisaint" or "Sleep Apnea." The riffs that are there are more supportive of the vocal line ("Hats off to the Bull") or simply seem a little lazy ("Face to the Floor," "Clones"). However, as a result of this shift, Pete may have given us the best vocal performance of his career. His timings and transition from his melodic voice, raspy yells, and falsetto are utterly fantastic. Songs like "Arise" and "Piñata" show this vocal calculation and prowess. On this note, his performance on the acoustic bonus track "Indifference" is utterly tremendous, and Pete makes his case to be of this century's premier rock vocalists. It seems pretty clear that the neat, yet somewhat unfulfilled track "Prima Donna" is on the album by virtue of its length, as "Indifference" clocks in barely over 2 minutes.
Despite the perhaps-trite adherence to the Chevelle formula, the Loeffler crew (sister Natalie included) finds a way to fill a formulaic album with highlights. "Piñata," "Hats off to the Bull," and "The Meddler" feature some of Chevelle's best choruses to date, rivaling the incomparably infectious "Saferwaters." And then there's "Envy." This slow-burning, atmospheric tune may be best song on the album. Haunting guitar, brilliant vocals (from Pete and his sister, harmonizing beautifully), and atmospheric drumming make up the first portion of the tune. But, alas, the ending reverts to a typical, 4-power-chord, vocal-harmonizing line which finishes up the song on a note that's very... meh. Much like this song, Chevelle's sixth album "Hats off to the Bull" is the victim of the previous 5 albums, and indicates that the band might be running out of ideas.
Same Old Trip
Hats off to the Bull