Our Lady Peace sold out with Gravity
So some people say, anyway. The detractors certainly have a more than credible case. Gravity
is a considerably more accessible release than its predecessors- the band had always been capable of producing memorable singles but rarely with such a populist bent. The band's long-time friend and producer Arnold Lanni was dropped for the recording of the album and in his place was brought Bob Rock, whose work with The Cult, Motley Crue and Metallica had earned each unprecedented levels of popular success and, in the case of the latter, accusations that they'd sold out. Rock's touch is certainly apparent throughout the album. While Rock has a certain style which tends to pervade through all the records he produces, Arnold Lanni seems to have existed only to allow the band's own sound to come through in the music. Gone for the most part are the sumptuous harmonies and careful, expansive arrangements of Spiritual Machines
and the sonic paranoia that permeated Happiness Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch
; in their place is a pretty steady diet of the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic, the choruses invariably swamped with loud, distorted guitar in the vein of the era's more derided college-rock outfits Creed and Nickelback.
In a sense, there some poetic justice in Our Lady Peace returning to the formula popularised by Nirvana all those years ago when the Canadian rockers were cut from much the same cloth, emerging in the mid-90s in the first wave of post-grunge alternative rock. There's plenty more dinner-party talking points to come too. Before committing the piece to record, guitarist Mike Turner and "stunt musician," keyboardist Jamie Edwards, walked out on the band citing creative and personal differences. Both left three writing credits ('All For You,' 'Bring Back The Sun' and 'Story of a Girl') leaving frontman Raine Maida to complete the songwriting himself. Fresh out of Berklee Music College, heavy metal-inclined Steve Mazur was invited to replace the irreplaceable Turner, and he readily accepted. However he found it hard to put his own stamp on the music of Gravity
partly because much of it had already been written and, arguably, because he was new he was more inclined to follow Bob Rock�s lead. Whatever his reasoning, the guitar-playing on Gravity
is almost uniformly more pedestrian and unimaginative than on previous (and future) releases.
The more cynical among us have also argued that a third member left the band before Gravity
referring to drummer Jeremy Taggart. Naveed
and (in particular) Clumsy
were rife with Taggart's jazz-inclined rhythms, his thunderous beats competing with (an outstripping) guitar and vocals for centre-stage on numerous occasions and his subtle tones punctuating more sombre breaks as only a jazz drummer can. Here Taggart appears a broken man, only rarely exhibiting the creative beats we know he's capable of, the opening rolls of 'All For You' and the submerged accents of 'Sell My Soul' noticeably rare on an album that could often use a virtuoso to separate it from the glut of similar acts. Defenders might justify his performance by saying he "plays for the song," however few could argue Taggart's drumming on earlier albums was anything but complimentary to the band's unique flavour. Partner in all things bassological, Duncan Coutts, is equally ghostly on this album, the throne of his usually prominent measures usurped by loud guitars and Taggart's forced reliance on the double bass.
Equally fit for the role of dilettante is the face of Our Lady Peace, Raine Maida. His erratic, unpredictable style of singing was the ultimate divisor through the '90s, as endearing as it was unbearable. Few could deny his admirable range but many feel he puts it to ill-use, regularly accenting his vocal lines with panicked yelps and howls. This is hardly surprising for an artist who cites Bjprk and Sinead O'Connor as his most important influences. Far more surprising, however, is Maida's choice to tone down his eccentricities on the album, choosing to rein in his falsetto and opt for the more straightforward melody. Again, what sounds more pleasing to the casual listener is not necessarily the best choice for a band that's prided itself on pushing the boat and playing by its own rules while remaining popular over the course of a decade in flux. Maida's performance is nevertheless thoroughly accomplished. While his critics will invariably yearn for the Raine of old, and may even find his attempts at true hard rock grit hackneyed, however his vocals on Gravity
are always confident and assured and he still manages to exhibit his remarkable range in 'Innocent' and 'Sell My Soul.'
So why the hell should you buy this album? After acknowledging the band more than likely moulded its sound to conform to commercial rock standards, is there a case that can be made for Gravity
? Of course. The songwriting on Gravity
surpasses itself; 'Somewhere Out There' deservedly became the band's first major international hit. As processed as the quiet-loud dynamic sounds on some tracks, the segue to majestic chorus is simply magnificent, the strained, violin-like guitar riff helping achieve a certain parity of instruments rarely achieved elsewhere. Maida too responds to the challenge, his mournful tone in the verse seamlessly transitioning to an impassioned outcry. Similarly, album tracks 'Sell My Soul' and 'Bring Back The Sun' hark back to the highs of Spiritual Machines
, the former boasting wonderfully understated harmonies and the latter featuring some satisfying interplay between vocals and guitar lines which alternate and harmonise at will.
Of the rockers, the cream of the crop are the single 'Innocent,' which includes Maida's most adventurous vocal and a chorus which becomes evermore majestic with the addition of a children's choir in the closing cycles. In 'All For You' Maida's voice floats despite the overwhelming distorted guitar track. 'Not Enough' is another standout track, equal measures defensive and abrasive as Raine alternately affirms "There's nothing left to prove/Nothing I won't do/Nothing like the pain I feel for you"
and laments "What you want/What you had/What is gone/It's over."
It even features a mosh-worthy middle section which may strike some as a step too far in to modern rock territory. 'Made of Steel' is a similar melting pot of touching gestures and unfettered anger, as he offers: "I can be anything that you want me to be/A punching bag, a piece of string that reminds you not to think."
Maida will never be honoured for services to the lyrical arts, but he does have a clear talent for conveying raw emotion.
If I sound confused as to the actual quality of this album, it's because I am. As a musician, it's hard not to notice the lack of ideas each musician shows through most the album, allowing their potential to shine through only in patches. As an Our Lady Peace, I can't help but be disappointed by the absence of so many factors which made the earlier albums great- the lavish vocal harmonies of Spiritual Machines
, the on-edge erraticism of Happiness...
, the hard rocking swagger of Clumsy
- yet the lesser form suits the band in other ways. Raine, in particular, benefits from his role as a simpler singer, his lyrics taking pride of place in the absence of incessant dramatic pitch-shifting. As far as commercial rock outfits go, you could do a lot worse than Our Lady Peace. Maida may divide the critics, but at least he's not Scott Stapp. Rest assured, Raine Maida will never c
ock-whip you in a bar in Mexico.
You can take that to the grave.