Review Summary: Upon returning, Dredg release an underwhelming album.
Context can be a dangerous thing. It can easily be twisted and manipulated allowing things to appear more epic or downright awful than they really are or were. Remember that perfect day you had? You know; the one where you first got laid for the first time. On that walk home you felt 10 feet tall, with every passerby nodding and smiling in approval, and every bird chirping in delight at your achievement. In reality, passersby’s were probably laughing at that stain on your trouser leg, and the birds would have defecated in the hood of your jacket without a seconds thought.
However, El Cielo was, and is, brilliant. No amount of contortion will allow the memory of Dredg’s masterpiece to seem more perfect than it was. Taken in the context of previous successes, Dredg’s newest effort ‘Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy’ has a lot to live up to in order to earn its place on the shelf next to the rest of their efforts. I think it’s safe to assume that nobody wants to instantly hate an album from a band they like, but with ‘Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy’, Dredg don’t get things off on the right foot. An appalling album title and equally disconcerting accompanying artwork is a far cry from the thought provoking ambiguity their previous releases held, and immediately a nagging doubt reluctantly forms as to the quality of the album’s contents.
Stepping up their pop sensibilities, ‘Upon Returning’ and ‘The Thought of Losing You’ both hit the mark with catchy riffs and all too memorable choruses. The former sports a crunchy, abrasive riff with haunting vocals from Gavin Hayes, whilst the latter has an optimistic, bouncy feel, encouraging the listener to sing along with both the bridge and chorus being repetitive yet effective. ‘The Tent’ is downbeat and saunters rather than strides, but succeeds in serving as more than filler, thanks to the melancholic, almost menacing feel conveyed by Hayes and co. Standout track, ‘The Ornament’, is pure Dredg. Slowly building to a heartfelt chorus, relaxed piano and light cymbal work combine to great effect; producing the only truly moving moment on the album.
However, with some of the tracks, it’s easy to feel like Dredg should simply have known better. ‘Down Without a Fight’ heavily relies on electronics and feels like comfort zones have been pushed and broken, rather than feeling like an experimental success. ‘Where I’ll End Up’ is relaxed to the point of lethargy, as it fails to build or evolve in its 4 minute existence. Feeling dangerously cheesy and barely engaging, it passes the listener by, leaving them at best indifferent, and at worst plain bored.
Instantly noticeable, is the alarming absence of drummer Dino Campanella. One listen to ‘The Canyon Behind Her’ reminds you of the talent this man possesses behind a drum kit. His fills and ingenuity are sorely missed on ‘Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy’, with the majority of the tracks practically screaming out for him to take the reins and elevate them from average to adept. Never getting out of first gear, you can’t help but feel his scant presence on this album is a contributing factor to its mediocrity.
For the most part, Dredg disappoint and underachieve on ‘Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy’. Although some tracks succeed in their quest to be poppy sing-along’s, others feel languid, cheesy, and contrived. With such a strong catalogue, it can only be hoped that this is a minor blip and that greater things are indeed to come, although it seems increasingly unlikely it will be in the progressive mould of Leitmotif or El Cielo. Perhaps Dredg left the studio feeling like they had just accomplished something truly epic, when really they’ve left with a noticeable stain, albeit on their discography instead of their leg.