Review Summary: They certainly weren't.
During the entirety of their career, Breaking Benjamin were fairly consistent. They weren’t groundbreaking and never released any earth-shattering material, but one could always count on them to release a semi-decent album with a few great songs here and there. Ever since their 2002 debut Saturate
, it was clear that even though they had a generic post-grunge sound, they could play it well. How often they could play it well was a different story. Their consistency meant that all of their albums had the same ratio of great songs to good songs to bad songs. Following that formula was their 2005 sophomore effort, We Are Not Alone
, which propelled the band to international stardom, making them one of the biggest names in mainstream rock.
One could always count on Breaking Benjamin to deliver quality singles, and that is how We Are Not Alone
starts off. “So Cold”, the band’s first major hit, is one of their best’s songs and opens up the album on a pretty great note. While the instrumentation may be generic, Benjamin Burnley’s vocal delivery is passionate and the cries of “show me how defenseless you really are” have their foundation in well-displayed emotion. It’s also why the nine repetitions of “it’s alright” at the end doesn’t wear thin. Second single “Sooner or Later” is more of the same, which means a simple melody anchored by emotive vocals, angst-ridden lyrics and effective songwriting. While some bands have their weakest songs be the singles, Breaking Benjamin knew how to write a radio hit and made them some of the best tracks they could offer.
The first half of We Are Not Alone
, despite lacking variation, manages to shine as the most listenable portion of the album. In all its generic drop-D/standard-C tuned riffs, “woe-is-me” lyrics and unnecessary harsh screams, tracks like “Follow” and “Simple Design” are strangely enjoyable, bringing out the inner pissed-off teenager in all of us. They’re still flawed; the latter has a pretty bad pre-chorus before busting into the hook that saves it from mediocrity, for example. Nevertheless, these don’t need
to be perfect in order to be enjoyable. Breaking Benjamin succeed at making good ol’ mainstream rock, but how good it is varies.
Unfortunately, good ol’ mainstream rock wears thin quite quickly, and We Are Not Alone
is physical evidence of that. When they’re not doling out U2-lite snoozers in the form of “Forget It” or building a whole acoustic ballad on a children’s nursery rhyme (“Rain”, I’m looking at you; there’s simply no excusing the use of “rain, rain, go away, come again another day” as legitimate lyrics for a hook), they’re recycling their old material and using unoriginal, by-the-lines songwriting to dismay. Burnley’s screams are also futile at best and eardrum-killing at worst. There are plenty of things wrong with We Are Not Alone
, but at the same time there’s lots to silently admire.
Out of all the rock bands to make it big in the 2000s, Breaking Benjamin weren’t even close to the worst. They had a few stinkers every here and there and were nothing more than generic, but their ability to dish out a few great songs every record remained consistent until their dissolution. Now that they are back together, one can only hope that the rate of quality remains the same, if not better. The soundtrack to many teenagers’ adolescent years, We Are Not Alone
is a small zeitgeist of post-millennial radio rock that's still worth picking and choosing individual songs from.