Before I even start this review, I have to make clear to everyone that I am not a Coheed & Cambria elitist. I do NOT own all of their previous albums, nor do I know much about their history. I am simply a casual fan who has heard of few of their past singles, namely “Devil in Jersey City," “Blood Red Summer," “Three Evils," and “A Favor House Atlantic." I purchased their new album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume 1. From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness based on my love of those songs.
So going into this album, I had no idea what the actual story was that they had been creating up to this point. All I knew was that when I saw the video for "Welcome Home" on Steven’s Untitled Rock Show, I had to go out and buy this album. With that out of the way, I feel like I can justify the rest of this review.
I was significantly surprised with what I heard when I popped the disc into my CD player. Well, actually, a better word would be disappointed. Based on my limited knowledge of the band’s previous efforts, I expected this to be an upbeat, catchy, and somewhat intense album. It isn’t. At least, not in the way I had anticipated. It’s just like the cream I put in my coffee: half and half. Half of it is amazing and half of it is just plain dull. The question I ask myself after each listen is, “Why didn’t they cut the dull parts out?" And although it would sound infinitely better in a condensed version, I realize the obvious reason for their inclusion is to aid the storyline. And to some degree, I respect their decision to focus on the overall story rather than the individual songs.
Needless to say there is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that since Claudio and the gang decided to choose quantity over quality, you’ll find your fingertips getting sore from pressing the skip button. The GOOD news is that most of the BAD news is mostly in a couple of sections. I guess it would be unfortunate if this only came in 8-track form. Thank you technology gods! But alas, this CD has 15 tracks and boasts an overly ambitious hour and ten minutes of runtime. And now, allow me to separate the good from the god-awful.
- "Keeping the Blade", the instrumental opening, gives a very haunting overture for things to come. It’s eerily apparent from the haunting vibrancy of this string/piano arrangement that there won’t be much room for catchy little ditties on this album. This would sound terrific playing in the opening credits of a Hitchcock movie.
- Flowing right into "Always and Never", Apollo’s first “actual" song, which, amazingly enough, is an acoustic ballad. But as sugary-sounding of a song as it may seem, there’s still an underlying creepiness to it. Never have the sounds of giggling children unnerved me so much. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, hearing Claudio sing "Stay with me and fall asleep/Pray to God for no bad dreams in his very childlike voice sounded incredibly sweet. But the sweetness fades in the last lines of the song, where he sings "I'm still waiting here to kill all of you" in a voice all too familiar to that of a villain from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
- The song that made me run off to Best Buy, "Welcome Home", starts out with a nice acoustic bit that builds into an insane lead riff, complete with loads of pinch harmonics that are reminiscent of Zakk Wylde. This is where Co & Ca’s metal side comes out kicking. The high point of this album, I can assure you, is hearing Claudio and Travis dueling back and forth with a superb solo.
- Riding high off the steam provided by the previous track, "Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial) is carried along by a shaky lead guitar line. It sounds like something you would expect to hear in a more recent Castlevania game. The verses have Claudio and Travis trading on and off again, but this time with vocals. The split-personality effect is a nice touch. A decent solo makes and appearance about half-way through the song.
- I’m sure I’ll get numerous comments telling me that I am either A) a pansy, or B) severely handicapped for liking "Wake Up". This is a ballad in the truest sense of the word. A light ambiance is provided by a tender bass line and some gentle guitar plucking. It pushes the all-too-often-heard promise of "I'll do anything for you" but, never wanting to be too conventional, throws in a twist with "Kill anyone for you" Odd line to be sung in a love ballad.
- If you are a fan of any of Coheed’s previous singles, you will most likely adore the instant catchiness of The Suffering. This is more along the lines of what I expected the CD to be like. The familiar cheerleading chants of "Hey! Hey!" even make a guest appearance. One noted addition to this song is the Little Richard-esque piano taps towards the end, which adds a notch to the upbeat-o-meter.
- "The Lying Lies & Dirty Secrets of Miss Erica Court comes in a close second for the Catchy Chorus Award, but also garners an honorable mention in the lyrics department. Here’s an excerpt: "I'll move the knife to show you of my cut/With the worst of truth from here/I drew no blood/So you're not as real/Just what I thought up"
- The Willing Well is considered a four part closing song. As with the rest of the album, this is also half good and half bad. Parts II and IV are excellent works of instrumentation and mood setting that allow you to reminisce of the days of “the epic song," with influences from Pink Floyd and Rush easily heard. Both are structured so well that even the small gaps of downtime even seem special.
- "Crossing the Frame" is the 5th track on the disc, and is the first disappointing song that I heard. I consider this to be a watered-down and much less melodic version of the previous song, "Ten Speed". Everything about this song is as tasty as swallowing a Twinkie covered in asbestos. This song was a disease to my colon and should’ve been promptly shat back out after its first listen.
- "Apollo I: The Writing Writer" makes up for a double shot of terribly over thought out music. With the word “write" popping up twice in the song’s title, I expected to be blown away by crafty lyricism. I was not. Random and unspecific lines like "If my shame spills our worth across this floor/Then tonight, goodnight... I'm burning Star IV make up the bulk of this mess.
- More fantastically dumb lyrics can be found in "Once Upon Your Dead Body." Claudio promptly starts out with this little gem: "If hello could only drop its O." How clever. You changed a word and its meaning by scratching out a letter. All guitars seem lazy here, with the drums providing the only solid momentum in the entire song.
- Everybody seems tired on "Mother May I," drummer included. I know I shouldn’t take song titles literally, but I think they’re actually asking their mom’s approval to take a nap. Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean. Actually, don’t give it a listen. Just take my word for it.
- And now comes the bad half of "The Willing Well: I and III," which are both completely unnecessary. In fact, "Part III: The Telling Truth" is a complete relapse of "The Writing Writer," with a couple extra parts tossed in; seemingly as an afterthought. I think the guys became a little too confident in their abilities and decided to see how far they could stretch their listeners’ attention spans. Overall poor quality and repetitious guitar lines infest themselves into every available crevice.
Good, bad, triumpant, and at times unbelievably ugly, the least I can say for Co & Ca is that they offer a wide variety of songs. However, choosing quantity over quality hurt Good Apollo’s chances of ever becoming a classic rock album. Terrible songs notwithstanding, I would still suggest going out and picking this up. There is enough worthy material and shining moments to make for an enjoyable listen.