Review Summary: It's hard to teach old dogs new tricks, but Carrabba and Further Seems Forever have quite alot to speak of for a decade of experience.
The intrigue was palpable from the get-go. The reformation of a band that over the last decade had proven themselves not only as great songwriters but an incredibly cohesive live unit, along with the return of their prodigal lead singer, had the promise of, at the very least, a better-produced version of the raw emotion from The Moon is Down
, a tantalizing prospect in itself for fans. As such, Further Seems Forever’s latest had had a considerable stack of expectations weighing on it, and I don’t think I’d be making much of a stretch if I said they delivered in a satisfactory manner.
Over hair-raising electric riffs, semi-progressive drumming and Carrabba’s trademark alt-rock/punk strain of vocals, the band opens with a reassuring return to form with So Cold
, the albums requisite single probably strong enough to bend mainstream to its wishes. It is followed immediately by Rescue Trained
, which would have been far less relatable if not for the fact that its just so damn energetic. Penny Black
begins with a two-pronged offensive with enough punch to herald the band's days of old, with their screamo and punk roots very much in place and kicking.
Let me be the first to note here that it’s ridiculous how young Chris Carrabba looks. Google any image of the band and you’ll notice that most of their members look every amount the seasoned veterans that they are. This simply does not apply to Chris. The man just doesn’t seem to age – you’d think he was the new kid that his band members picked up to be their ace-in-the-hole on their comeback, except for the fact that he’s effing 37 years old. Perhaps years of singing and writing about teenage issues and insecurities has preserved Chris physically in his youth. But fortunately, aside from just looking young, Carrabba proves to be the same
vocal powerhouse that he was back when he was 25, with no sign that he'll let up anytime soon.
As such, it’s undeniable that Carrabba’s vocals are the crown jewels of FSF’s latest effort. I’ve always been a huge fan of the man behind the unbridled passion of Dashboard Confessional. Easily one of the most distinct vocalists in alternative rock, Carrabba voice seems immaculately crafted to be the perfect emotion-conveying tool that it is. In the aforementioned Rescue Trained
, Carrabba, flanked by steely riffs that are conventional in the most apt way possible, charges headfirst into one of the most ambitious choruses of his career, pushing his voice to that delicate euphoria-inducing point right between strong supported vocals and primal screaming. Though perhaps to a less obvious extent, his vocal ingenuity is evident in King's Canyon
with soaring harmonies from a Carrabba-choir that fills a spacious prechorus bridge which leads into a high-tempo chorus, andthe dark acoustic bliss that is the closing track Janie
shows his delicate side in its full glory. From his unique open-vowelled enunciation to his ability to switch between a delicate almost-whisper to spine-chilling vocal fry, it is not hard to understand how Chris almost single-handedly steered Dashboard Confessional toward becoming a hallmark of modern emo, and with Penny Black
the man delivers in a spectacular fashion.
I mentioned earlier that I’d expected this album to follow in the footsteps of The Moon is Down
, and in a sense it did, but not in a manner in which I hoped it would. Although professing a satisfying maturity of their sound, Penny Black
falls prey to the biggest issue I had with Moon is Down
: an unsettling lack of in-album experimentation. The tracks sound like they were all written over the same period, in the same location, with the same inspiration in mind, and incredible though their sound may be, the album blends together all too well, especially in its latter half, getting uncomfortably close to forgettable at times.
The lyrics are another precarious issue – they just don’t quite measure up to the stuff the band should be writing about at this point in their career. Having made huge progress in this aspect by acknowledging upfront their beliefs and, consequentially, inspiration, in Hide Nothing
with “Light Up Ahead”, FSF seems to have taken a step back with Penny Black
. Even (or should I say especially) on Carrabba’s front this is disappointing; having been emotionally wrought, angst-ridden and at times even textbook depressive throughout a good deal of Dashboard Confessional’s lengthy and illustrious discography, Chris’ work in Alter the Ending
, with a great deal of spiritual introspection in “Get Me Right” and an unashamed confession in “The Motions”, and even in Dusk and Summer
with the haunting post-war trauma “Slow Decay”, showed a penchant for brilliant lyrics under the layers of emo. Unfortunately, in comparison, Penny Black
doesn’t quite cut it in this department. That is not to say that their lyrics are inane, for they are by no means unworthy of the songs that carry them, nor are they any less than the standard expected of their genre, it is just marginally disappointing when you know that a band is capable of so much more.
is, frankly, unlikely to change the world as we know it, and it’s likely that it’ll get its best recognition only in retrospection; only the few and far in between FSF fans and Dashboard fans anxious for a new release are going to see this album for what it truly is, a very solid piece of work by a band with a reputation far smaller than it deserves. FSF has never sounded more confident that they do coming out of their hiatus, and I have a feeling that many of the artistic shortcomings of this album are due to the fact that the band was simply having too much fun jamming together again and creating good new s**t, and there is no way anyone can fault them for that, for what this album lacks in essence it makes up for in sheer enthusiasm – it’s honestly impossible not to smile when you listen to it. Penny Black
will definitely have a place in my iPod for years to come, stored in anticipation for the day FSF lives up to their full potential and blows us all away. Hopefully that day comes soon.