Review Summary: Safetysuit bring both the sugar and the consistency for a remarkably strong sophomore release
The sound of These Times
pretty much created itself before its own very recording: Safetysuit's single "Stay", a tear-jerker taken from the band's 2008 debut, Life Left to Go
, came as a surprise success in the mainstream back in 2009, particularly in the minivans of soccer moms everywhere. So, right away, the chaos theory of the mainstream bastard complex-system immediately went into motion: what do (most) record labels do when potential meets reality for their big-money-bands? Take said hit-debuts, pick out the most boardwalk-applicable qualities, throw in a handful of talented, successful producers - Espionage, Howard Benson, and OneRepublic
's Ryan Tedder - and bam: we have twelve songs with the hit potential of "Stay", in this particular case.
Which is no small accomplishment. Because as a pop record, These Times
, and it is solely a pop record this time, is cleanly produced yet not overbearing, consistent, and as a whole reminiscent of everything, if anything, that made past successful radio-ballad bands Goo Goo Dolls
, The Fray
, and Snow Patrol
enjoyable from time to time in the intimate moments of One Tree Hill
, or something like that. Okay, good. But what about where it matters for the devoted music connoisseur: sincerity and depth? Let's take a closer look.
"Let Go" is the obvious cash cow; it's penned with the aid of the famed Tedder hit-maker himself, and when played, the chorus hits you like a fu
ckin' load of bricks. But do the lyrics work? Well, yes, actually. "Now every time it happens / You make it for a day and / Then you get to thinkin' / Oh no, n-no, no no, no" - turns into a launch pad for an ex-relationship destroyer of "Let go(s)," all repeated to infinity for the chorus. Sounds silly, but just play the song; you'll get it. And even better, so will she. "Believe", in much the same way, is an opener that will erupt into stadium-size reception, faintly reminescient of Safetysuit's semi-hit "Someone Like You" with its big guitars and churning falsetto of lead voice and rythm guitar Doug Brown.
Like most excellent pop albums you could pick any one of these tracks, save for the lengthy - but still good - closer, "Life In The Pain", and find yourself with a song that your mom and girlfriend, or even yourself, would sing along to on the radio in the months to come. But it's the title track of These Times
that really comes full circle here, and not in just a commercial sense either, but in Safetsuit's overall songwriting and performance as well. Briefly in this mostly acoustic track, Brown puts relationships to the side and considers the daunting bleakness of decay and seemingly hopeless feelings that come with the dire periods of life: "I cannot stand to look in the mirror, I'm failing / I'm telling you; these times are hard, but they will . . ." he laments. It's really surprisingly just how much an uplifting turn in Brown's voice evokes hope when he closes the chorus with pounding guitars and the word "pass".
Most listeners fine-tuned in this type of alternative pop-rock may already have ear filters to pick out the saccharine lyrical crap found in this type of mainstream music. And admittedly, Brown never pulls any Morrisey-isms or Lacey lines here in the slightest - just see the blunt "Crash" or "One Time". But something about Safetysuit's driving performance here connects in more than just a hooky way for said-voiced relationships, still, and for a pop album to last a little longer than its singles' running months on the radio charts, that's what it takes: hooks that drive simple lines for the long run, over and over. Jimmy Eat World
In the tail-end of These Times
, Safetysuit still bring the strong guitars and melodies, stopping to spin off a solo in the driving "Stranger", and even throw in some backyards-y intimate acoustic picking in "Things to Say", bringing to mind the pleasant moments of Can't Love, Can't Hurt
from the-now-defunct Augustana
. Which amounts to Safetysuit having varied their instrumental and directional offerings on These Times
, correcting an often-carded complaint of the wishy-water sound that was found on the alt-rock pop of their debut.
A complaint for These Times
? It's predictable, and it's calculated success; there you have it. Yet this complaint rims on one of its successes as an obvious mainstream album: Safetysuit do this very well. Their producers' talent have ensured this; their record labels pushed for it; and lastly, the band itself brings it all to fruition for hit after hit. With a little luck, and maybe a few television drama and late-time show appearances, we'll be seeing and hearing a lot from Safetysuit for the next couple of months, if not years. And do you know what's the best thing about that? It's actually not a bad thing. I don't know about you, but I don't think there are many popular ballad bands that can lay hold to such a claim like that these days.