Review Summary: Bryce Avary deserves a breakthrough... But he really needs a break.
Getting a grasp on which musicians will achieve commercial success can often be as perplexing as it is predictable. Just when you think you have the next superstar pegged, along comes an unknown one-hit wonder to deflect the spotlight. One case in point is the one-man power-pop outfit that is The Rocket Summer. Texan multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Bryce Avary ticks so many boxes on the formula chart for success, he should have been filling arenas worldwide some five years ago. The story is there... The sound is there... And with superb third LP ‘Do You Feel’, the vehicle should have been in place to take him all the way to the top. Whether it was poor marketing or simply apathetic consumer perceptions, something went amiss as significant sales did not eventuate despite an overwhelmingly positive critical reaction. Successor ‘Of Men and Angels’ marked the first downward step in The Rocket Summer’s career, and fifth LP ‘Life Will Write the Words’ unfortunately continues that descending trend.
In an attempt to recapture his mojo, ‘Life Will Write the Words’ sees Avary returning to his independent roots, shedding the major label tag and self-releasing the album. Since the now 29 year old has amazingly been responsible for playing, singing, recording and producing practically every note of his discography thus far, any concerns over this move should be unwarranted. Yet, one can’t help but feel that Avary’s grasp on quality control is waning, with too many of these - admittedly solid and likable - twelve tracks delivering predictable and forgettable results that fail to reach any great heights. Take, for instance, lead single & album opener ‘Run and Don’t Stop’; with its catchy guitar line and attempt at vocal grit... It’s undeniably nice and competent in all aspects, but ultimately lacks substantial distinctive qualities. ‘Revival’ then adds some keys and “woh oh’s”, while ‘Prove It’ chooses to affix hand-claps. Not only can you practically see what’s coming next (a feat assisted by the striking resemblance to the opening triumvirate of the previous LP), but Avary has lost that knack of simply bettering the fan-friendly hooks of his contemporaries.
By no means a train-wreck, ‘Life Will Write the Words’ does indeed have some redeeming qualities. As predictable as they are, the straight-forward guitar and piano-driven power-pop arrangements of 'Underrated' and 'Old Love' add some catchy, sing-along melodies, while closing rocker 'Ashes Made of Spades' displays some much-needed spark. Avary is at his best, however, when adding a quirky soulful feel to proceedings, such as on the finger-snap filled 'Circa '46' and album highlight '200,000'. Dare it be said that a return to the cheesy, overly optimistic heart-on-sleeve lyrical approach of his teenage days suits, but lines such as "To be with you I've driven far, but I loved you that much" still feel more natural than the Springsteen impression that is 'Just For a Moment Forget Who You Are'. Meanwhile, the faith-driven themes so strong on 'Of Men and Angels' remain dormant here until the album's final third, which disappointingly contains two ballads that struggle to hit any significant emotional nerves.
Has The Rocket Summer just been one big tease over his career; undeserving of potential superstar status and commercial success? Well, it just may be in Bryce Avary's back-catalog of lyrics where the answer lies. "This high life scenery, it makes me crazy" Avary sang in 2007, before stating "A song is not a business plan, because this is me saying words I actually mean and I won't compromise this thing just to make it". Some three years later, he followed up with "Here I am dear Lord, tasting hints of fame and I don't want it anymore if it's not you that I gain". While falling short of shunning success, it is clear that this talented young man is uncomfortable with the exposure that comes with it. So, while many fans empathized with Avary in 2010 when he declared "I need a break... But I'd rather have a breakthrough", one now has to wonder if he really does need a break. On the back of 'Life Will Write the Words', most would suggest so, since it would be a shame to never see this gifted prodigy return to something approaching his very best.
“Life will write the words… but I choose my own melody”.
Recommended Tracks: 200,000, Underrated & Run and Don't Stop.
One of those few artists I genuinely wish was better than he is. Can't be bothered to listen to this because this review just reminds me of my Of Men And Angels one and that's not a good thing (in terms of the album).
IfYouRun, his best is 'Do You Feel'... That's probably a 4.5 for me... Yes really. But if you have the time, even starting at the start is worth it.
Adam, it may be best if you don't listen to this. While I thought you were way too harsh with your rating of 'OM&A', I actually agreed with most of what you said. Like I said in the review, the 1st 3 songs of that album are almost facsimilies of the 1st 3 songs here.
I think one of his issues could be that he has never nailed a ballad. His up-tempo stuff just consistently seems better.
Well, that's kinda how i feel about this record too Davey. '200,000' and 'Ashes made of Spades' are great tracks, 'Circa '46' might be the album's best song in my opinion. Then again there's fillers like 'The Rescuing Type' or 'Revival'. The same applies to 'Of Men and Angels' in terms of inconsistency i think. Still sort of strange he's not more successful. Good read!
Yeah, he's matured a bit Skreech... But Unfortunately that has had some negative impact as well by the sound of it.
Well said hC. 'Circa 46' was the biggest grower on here for me by quite some way. Not many other tracks did grow on me over the past week or so though. Whereas a handful did on 'OM&A'.
And yeah, I wanted to go into the possible reasons as to why he has not struck it big even more, but the review was getting long enough as it is. Let's just say that my line about "apathetic consumer perceptions" could have branched off in all kinds of directions.
Chipmunk, since writing this review, I have had a look at a few other reviews around the net. Opinion is split, but I can't believe some are calling this his best album. It's not a patch on 'Do You Feel' & if I had to rank his discog, I'd say this is his worst LP.
Speaking of splitting opinion, 'Walls' was always a track that did. Personally, I wasn't a fan. Although, I hope I'm not contradicting myself here, but I actually feel the best track off 'OM&A' is the title track... Which could be classified as a ballad.