Imagine what would happen if the guitarist and drummer in Disturbed decided that they were done with the whole nu metal thing. Perhaps they would move on to more interesting songwriting, with varying structures and time signatures. Maybe Dan Donegan would actually mix up his play style. But rather predictably, they chose post-grunge as their new direction.
This choice of genre becomes apparent from the first moments of the album. The first song and first single, "First of the Last," features segments of shouting "Hey!" after a dull chorus. Is this supposed to demonstrate pretentious masculine power, or simply rally up the crowd live? Either way, it's more humorous than intimidating. There aren't many of these call-and-response moments of the album, but the same cannot be said about the choruses, which are littered with lazy power chord chugging. In most mainstream rocks songs, the pre-chorus and chorus are responsible for presenting the songs' major hooks. In A Life By Design?, these hooks are rare. A couple of the choruses lack any attempt at an original melody (compare "The Average" with Evans Blue's verses in "This Time It's Different").
I've followed Evans Blue for a couple years now. Their first two records have been favorites of mine for a while. While creating the third record, the band chose to give singer Kevin Matisyn the boot, and replace him with Dan Chandler. The band's two albums with Chandler follow a generic post-grunge path, with a hint of nu metal. To the untrained ear, Fight or Flight is Evans Blue. Chandler's vocals in this band are identical to those in Evans Blue, lyrically and rhythmically (ironically, this criticism can be found in David Draiman's new band, Device). Maybe he should stop hitting those high notes, because they really don't work for him. However, he hits a sweet spot when he keeps his pitch down.
Why should any potential listener bother with this if they already have heard Evans Blue before? The new lyrics, the breakdowns, the solos? If one can stomach the post-grunge/nu-metal sound, they might find actually enjoy parts of A Life by Design?. "Leaving" is a highlight of the album, starting with an acoustic guitar before going electric 2/3 of the way in, a la "In the Air Tonight." It provides some variety, which is a highlight in itself in an album that lacks much variety in the other eleven tracks. Dan Donegan's solos are interesting when they take place, though forgettable afterwards. The lyrics are your typical Breaking Benjamin-type vagueness. Two examples: "If it hurts you to see / then keep your eyes closed / if it hurts you to think / don't let your mind go / do you feel controlled? / let somebody know," (If It Hurts); "The pigment's been stolen through eyes that won't open / the absence of warmth from his breath denies hope," (You Refuse).
I'm not one who usually criticizes a band for choosing a softer route in their music, but I don't see how anyone could praise this record if they do. The acoustic part in "Leaving" is excellent, and the heavy parts in "A Void" (especially the drumming in the chorus) sound promising. The problem is that these moments are simply too rare and stuck in between lackluster radio rock that edges on painful at times. How many times can bands be forgiven for songs like "It's Over" and "Take a Shot," which take on the same sound that Nickelback produced a decade ago (The Long Road, was released September 23rd, 2003 - for those who were wondering)? They may not be particularly offensive songs, but they demonstrate the type of filler that is found too often in many major-label rock releases.
If this is really just a small side project and nothing more, that's okay. Sometimes projects just don't work. If you've heard any major post-grunge release in the last ten years (Breaking Benjamin, Hinder, Papa Roach, Shinedown, etc.), you're unlikely to hear many new ideas here. "Leaving" and "A Void" aren't even exceptions to that statement, but they provide the album with a little redeeming value. Let's just hope they don't become another post-grunge band declaring themselves as "one of the last remaining rock bands / keeping rock alive / bringing back rock 'n roll."
You mention that you have heard some post-grunge bands declaring themselves "One of the last Rock Bands" and other similar descriptions. I have never heard a member of a band saying something like that, who specifically are you referring to?
I think Creed is most guilty of the "we're keeping rock and roll alive" approach, though that just might be Scott Stapp lol. Back when I was more into post-grunge, bands like Buckcherry, Three Days Grace, Hinder, and the like, they would almost always thank the fans in between songs, saying that "it's people like you (you who come to our shows) that keep rock music alive."
I saw 10 Years earlier this year and Jesse (singer) had this ridiculous encore where he brought out a cutout of one of the guys from One Direction and sang the final song to it, while bitching about how their music and pop music sucks. It was about as stupid as what Clint Eastwood did at that Republican National Convention last year.
The specific phrase that I used about being "one of the last remaining rock bands" was taken from a mock interview featuring Scott Stapp on Youtube. Here's the link; trust me, it's worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyeMfhzzbfo
I watched the video. It's hilarious. Stapp's pretty much a laughingstock now. It's probably his fault.
Declaring oneself "keeping rock alive" is a little egotistical, but there is a little truth to it. Any band that plays some form of rock music, whether it be hard rock, heavy metal, grunge, post grunge, alternative, is responsible somewhat for keeping rock intact (in my opinion)
"One of the last rock bands" on the other hand, has nothing to back it up. Anyone who says that is pretty much guaranteed to have a heightened sense of self-importance. So is "bringing back rock n' roll" rock was never gone in the first place.
As for the thing about the 10 Years concert, people always blame pop music for being what's "ruining" music. There are plenty of good pop songs out there (Although I have yet to hear a dance-pop song I actually enjoyed). No genre is good or bad as a rule, despite what many rock lovers think.
I used to like mainstream rock a lot, but over the past couple years it lost its appeal for me. It
annoys me to no end when I see bands like Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch and all their
contemporaries producing the same album over and over again, claiming it's good music.
I think the grunge/post-gruge/alt-rock genres in general suffer from lack of innovation. Fight or
Flight is a perfect example. The have the same sound as Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Stone Sour,
Breaking Benjamin, Staind, Shinedown, etc. Besides, "Leaving," this is one of the most generic
albums I've heard since Shinedown's last album.
I'm going to the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, CA this year, which has huge lineup, the
majority of which is filled with these mainstream rock bands that I can't stand anymore lol. I kinda
figure it'll be my chance to say goodbye to that period of my life, musically speaking. And for
everything I dislike about Papa Roach, they are great live.
Yeah I agree with you about the innovation thing. But I do like mainstream rock. I have no aversion to liking it, unlike a lot of people here. But sometimes it's just not enjoyable. There are some bands in the genre that everyone seems to like, such as Alter Bridge (surprising considering that they're 75% of Creed), Foo Fighters, Matchbox Twenty, and Audioslave.
At the beginning of the review, you say "Imagine if they were done with nu metal." Disturbed hasn't really been nu metal since "The Sickness" and even then it's debatable whether that was nu metal. How much Disturbed have you heard?
I don't think the question is how much Disturbed I've listened to, but rather how much nu metal I've
listened to. My impression of nu metal is that it combines elements of thrash and heavy metal with
other genres, ranging from grunge to punk to hip hop. I don't think nu metal automatically means
rapping/screaming like Linkin Park or Nonpoint. I'd also classify Sevendust, Godsmack, Flaw, and
Digital Summer as nu metal.
I've listened to nu metal as well, and I don't hear a lot of it after "The Sickness." Although they still do take influence from grunge and do use electronics, it's much more subtle on their recent albums. And David Draiman occasionally does some spoken-word style sections that some classify as rapping, but I don't think that it sounds much like that.
But that's just what I hear. You could very well have heard differently.