Review Summary: They just had to leave us cold
2008 was a decidedly very poor year for new music. Be it Cryptopsy's descension into deathcore, or Jack Johnson trying too hard to make a darker album, or The Mars Volta's very sloppy and rushed wankfest The Bedlam in Goliath
, 2008 had me thinking that the writer's strike affected not just film and TV but music too. The only albums I can name that were above average were Sarah Brightman's stellar return to what she does best, Symphony
and Metallica's Death Magnetic
, but even the latter of those two was just above average at best. It's even worse for Pendulum however; they got a lot of flak for their plans to shift into a more electronic rock sound, and they seem to be aware of it in the opening track of their 2008 album In Silico
: "Cause it's simple, you were wrong/You must have known that we didn't belong/I know you thought I sold my soul/But you never told it to my face/I just had to leave you cold/Blow this *** away!
". The idea of a shft into a more rock-oriented style wasn't such a bad idea. In fact, they'd pull it off beautifully in the subsequent album, Immersion
. So why didn't it work for In Silico
Pendulum's second album seems to be reaching way too far. If anything, it sounds as if they're trying to stuff industrial, drum n bass, progressive rock, minimalistic music, eastern style rhythms and heavy metal into one basket, and problem is, it doesn't sound natural at all, it sounds too forced. If anything, it falls flat on its face altogether. Sure the album may work as a collection of songs, and the songs aren't bad for the most part (at least), but as an album, it's kind of like flipping through channels on TV. On one channel, there's Doctor Who, on another there's The Simpsons, on another there's the evening news, on another there's Law & Order, etc. There's no real flow to the album. Now mind you, Robert Swire Thompson is one of the busiest men in electronic music today, working on a minimum of 6 projects at once, and with all those ideas floating through his Australian head, it's understandably hard to focus on just one for an extended period of time. Even he has admitted on multiple occasions that there's too many ideas going on in the music, and this album is one of those occasions where it really shows in the music.
At ten songs and just under an hour, In Silico
doesn't really have any particularly bad songs, but compared to the albums it's sandwiched between, half of the album are particularly good songs and the rest is decidedly a very mixed bag, ranging from boring to decent at best. "Different" is a song that fans of The Prodigy would like- its Prodigy-like chorus and drum beat that sounds like it was from The Matrix and the bassline during the chorus are insane, and Swire's vocals are great, as he even embellishes in some Matthew Bellamy-like falsetto at a few points in the song. "Propane Nightmares" boasts a mariachi influence and creepy lyrics about the religious cult "Heaven's Gate" (the video makes it clear what the song is about), and the chorus is pretty catchy too. It's probably the most DNB sounding song on the album, fans of pre-fame Pendulum be warned. "Mutiny" is a fun electro-metal tune that has a catchy first half, and a rockin' second half that manages to thrill every time. Also managing to impress are the final two songs, the former ("Granite") being a catchy and fun song that has a techno-punk feel and some excellent vocals from Swire- that high note he hits at the end is just stunning! The latter, "The Tempest" may just be one of the best songs in Pendulum's career, with its Jane's Addiction style mid-tempo rock 'n roll beat and its extended DNB outro makes for a good closer to the album.
The rest is just... Meh. The first 2:36 of "Midnight Runner" are mind-numbingly boring and don't really do much to further the track. It's just slow piano with frantic drumming and Swire mumbling through a vocoder, and isn't necessary for the song. But then the fast-paced minimalistic DNB kicks in and from there it manages to kick some ass. The best part happens near the end when Swire sings into an amp, making it sound like a series of ascending guitar notes. Similar enough is "9,000 Miles", which seems to take an eternity to get going, but when Swire makes his introduction to the song by singing "It's nine-THOOOOOUSAND MIIIIIIIILES back to you!!!
" (yes, he sings those two words completely in histrionics), it gets going from there, and manages to evolve int a beautifully minimalist piece with an eastern feel. Now sure ido raise some of both songs, but we shouldn't have to wait through long and boring intros that do nothing to add to the music. Meanwhile, "The Other Side" is just bad. I swear, I've heard that vocal melody and similar lyrics in plenty of other generic radio rock songs, and the vocal samples are just embarrassing. "Visions" has an awesome intro, but from there doesn't really evolve- in fact, the song has 98% vocoder vocals which work for the first hit, but after a while they get annoying. Come on Rob, if I want to hear you sing, at least actually sing.
Swire admitted in an interview before a German festival that he himself isn't very proud of the album because "it's a bit too angry". I'm not sure if I'd call it too angry, but it's hard not to see why he doesn't hold it in high regard. It isn't that In Silico
is a bad album, but it is very inconsistent. When it's good, it's great. When it's bad... well, I'm sure you know that already. In fact, the great tracks would make a great EP. However, there seems to be too much AND too little at the same time. Thankfully, Immersion
manages to fix this album's mistake and deliver a cohesive and elegant collection of differently-themed tracks. And while I would recommend this album if you need to own all of Pendulum's discography, buy Immersion
first, and thank me later.