Review Summary: Mature Stereophonics
Stereophonics had steadily been dropping records every two years from 1997 to 2009, at one point feeling stuck on autopilot, especially in the last couple of years of the run. Keep Calm And Carry On
and Pull The Pin
, felt tired and uninspired, both recycling the same formulas while the arena rock leanings made them shallow, easily forgettable affairs. Hell, at one point it seemed they even were content with their musical impasse. So the 4 year gap in between Keep Calm And Carry On
and Graffiti On The Train
gave the band more time to sit back and think their next move. While their latest effort isn't that comeback the fans have been expecting for a long time now, it is easily the best offering since Language.Sex.Violence.Other?
Borrowing a lot from the subdued affair You Gotta Go There To Come Back
and even Just Enough Education To Perform
, also adding a somewhat uneasy vibe throughout, most of the tracks here are mellow, built up on melancholic, picked guitar and piano lines. The great thing about some of them is they tend to create a surrounding atmosphere, an aspect that's been missing since the 2005 effort, Language.Sex.Violence.Other?
. Tracks like "Violins And Tambourines" and "Graffiti On The Train" have some depth, being two of the highlights on the record. The former slowly builds up over an anxious guitar line, bursting into a desperate finale where front man Kelly Jones screams over the string arrangements. The title track follows the footprints of the band's earlier ballads without sounding as pretentious as their latest output, finishing with a great, echoed and tremolo-full guitar solo, mimicking a synthesizer, that would've been at home on Blur's 13
Another noticeable feature is the relative lack of distortion. Few tracks have power, the band opting for a more settled affair this time. Exceptions are the straightforward "Catacomb", which feels like Stereophonics having a bit of fun in the studio and the opener "We Share The Same Sun". Even if it clings to arena rock, it's a simple, catchy song that both old fans and casual ones will enjoy. There is also the mechanical "In A Moment", a song that owes more to the electronic genre than the usual approach, which finds Kelly Jones questioning all the things he took for granted as a superstar. It's nice to see the Stereophonics wandering a bit outside the comfort zone for the first time in many years. The two oddballs here, "Been Caught Cheating" and "Indian Summer" stand aside the overall sound of the record. The first is a nice, late night bar acoustic blues lament that reminisces the sound on You Gotta Go There To Come Back
and the second, which might be the most divisive song here among the listeners, is a grandiose pop tune, complete with strings and a huge chorus. It's understandable why some would find it sub par, as the record isn't that shiny and mainstream oriented, but honestly, "Indian Summer" is the band's catchiest single in 8 years.
Unfortunately, Graffiti On The Train
, like most of their records, suffers a bit from inconsistency and a lack of truly memorable tunes. Yes, it sounds better and most of the tracks deserve more listens, but still, it's unlikely the record will stand the test of time. The stories aren't what they used to be in the late '90s, because the sheer honesty and knack for storytelling Jones had gradually disappeared since the mid '00s and the music doesn't feel as compelling as before. This doesn't mean the record is necessarily disposable, it's just the fact that the listener mustn't approach Graffiti On The Train
with the highest of expectations. For a few weeks at best, the record might seem interesting, but it will fade sooner or later.
In the end, Graffiti On The Train
shows the Stereophonics are willing to come out of their creative deadlock and make room for a musical resurgence that's been needed for quite some time now. More than half of the record is interesting and shows a band awaken from a deep slumber.