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|Mars Ranks: Blue October|
Best of 2022? Pffft. No thanks. We're here to talk about *real* issues, such as Blue October and how they are very underrated and woah they had an album this year! So this does bear some relevance. Now that Spinning the Truth Around pt. 1 has sat for a bit, I thought now would be a good time to rank a band that has gradually weaseled its way into my life and means a lot to me. Hope you enjoy!
A disclaimer before I begin: this is a blindspot band for me. Basically, regardless of what Justin concocts, I am very forgiving of the necessary baggage a Blue October album carries (lyricism, occasionally odd hiphop/soul shit that might not work but I pretend it does, etc. etc.). There is a comfort in their music for me. However, I do firmly believe they got dealt a bad hand for always being the "Hate Me" band despite doing a lot to grow from that single, and in writing this little ranking, I hope I provide some insight on their work. This is also just something fun for me to do and pass time and write, so uh, buckle up.
Any Man in America
.. that being said, this album is bad. Like, not even my blindspot for Justin's work protects this; Any Man is an absolute mess from front to back with precious few redeeming factors that prevent it from being a total wash. This is where the lurking hip-hop and rap sensibilities the project flirted with before burst to the surface, and oh golly are they just not implemented well. It's certainly something *different* for the October gang, but it's clumsily integrated, sloppy, awkward, and runs a train through the songwriting brilliance the group had begun to capitalize on at the mainstream level. There are choice moments where the overarching theme of the album clicks, with the highlights most notably coming in opener "The Feel Again (Stay)" and "Worry List," but that's about where the positives end. It's no coincidence that those tunes stay comfortably under the indie/alt umbrella Blue October were, at that point in their career, experts in. Anything beyond that is generally awful.
Any Man in America
.Part of what makes this record difficult to listen to is the worst lyricism Justin has ever penned to date. I entirely sympathize with the fact that my man was going through some heavy shit, but it definitely did not translate well into the writing; plenty of cringe-inducing phrases, terrible metaphors, and a boatload of TMI-ing that's even too much for Blue October. Giving the subject matter at hand, there's also an intolerable level of misogyny lurking in the lyrics, and with a lot of the instrumentals acting more as backing for Justin's verses, it's essentially impossible to ignore or forgive its presence. It's no coincidence that the band has since moved far from this sound and hardly, if ever, have referenced it in their sonic development. Why this is rated so highly here is a mystery to me, and the fact it is at all considered better than Foiled, Sway, etc. is a terrible crime. I don't say this about Blue October *ever*, but avoid this. I'm serious.
Uuuggghhh ranking this low hurts. But something has to be down here, and really, Home fits the bill. It's basically a worse version of Sway; the quiet parts, minus the title track, don't hit the same emotional payoffs, whereas the rockers maintain the preceding's records issues of not being good at rockers. I mean, I love you Justin, but "You make my heart go bang!" We serious? Singles like that and "Coal Makes Diamonds" still manage to be entertaining, but they lack the special atmosphere and delicate nature of superior tracks. When it comes together properly, such as the title track and the titanic closer "Time Changes Everything," Home finally begins to come into an identity of its own. As it stands, it's more of a transitionary album between Sway and what would eventually come in I Hope You're Happy, with its negatives still needing to be polished out and the positive aspects not entirely realized yet.
That's all primarily due to the electronic influence that, similar to the hiphop, rap, and soul of Any Man in America, have always been somewhat imbedded into Justin's musical lexicon. However, much like how Any Man botched its influences, Home doesn't quite know what to do with the bonus piano shenanigans and explorations into modern pop. You end up getting tunes like "Leave it in the Dressing Room" and "Houston Heights" that are bops, but somewhat half-baked in their presentation and caught between their older post-grunge years and their desire for a more mainstream direction. Plenty to enjoy, and the overall atmosphere of calm/positivity is a very welcome change of pace, but it's ultimately dwarfed by what came before and what would come after.
In the same way that Home feels like and (and ultimately appears to be) an inferior album to what came before it, Approaching Normal lives in the shadow of Foiled. It deserves to be below it, for sure--its ballads, while still strong, are far much more overblown and overdramatic, whereas Foiled employed its softer numbers with grace, allowing the softer textures of the band to decorate Justin's lyrics of loss and heartbreak. Approaching Normal adds exclamation points when they weren't necessary and amps up an intensity that misses the point. What this *does* help with, however, is churn out some of the best singles in the band's discography. Yes, this record is ranked low, but when it's in high gear, it kicks some serious ass. Consider the criminally underrated lead single "Say It," which has since become a concert mainstay and feels like a spiritual successor to Foiled's "What if We Could" and its equally heavy potential. The hook is delicious simple, the verses killer... [cont]
... the riff simplistic but instantly recognizable, and the crescendo where the violin finally emerges being an absolute hair-raiser. Damn. This same template is repeated for the similarly underrated "Should Be Loved," the wonderful tone-setting opener "Weight of the World," and the (in)famous closer "The End." That's not even to mention Justin's unhinged battle against domineering record labels in "Dirt Room," whose bombastic synth line pumps the song full of an amazing amount of energy. Basically, Approaching Normal is the last gasp of the post-grunge aggression, which past this point would be gradually diminishing despite rearing its ugly head in Any Man. The rockers are keepers, the ballads are heartfelt but ultimately too much. Worth a check regardless, and 100% needs to have a higher average.
In a lot of ways, I love this album, and a lot of the flaws I'm going to talk about are definitely forgivable in my book. Trying to sort out beyond the top and bottom of this crew's discography is TOUGH I'm telling ya. Whew. Anyways, the seven-song run from the serene "Breathe, it's Over" to "Things We Don't Know About" is arguably the best the band have ever made, and ESPECIALLY after the dud that was Any Man..., it was an absolute godsend. It harkens back to the indie approach of History for Sale's more reserved moments, but better in nearly every way. The climaxes, especially in "Fear" and "Debris," are absolutely massive and have impeccable journeys to reach them, whereas the more restrained numbers have a beautiful aura of peace that makes them so thrilling to delve into. The title-track especially has no tricks to reveal, no crescendo to orchestrate, but instead a gorgeous atmosphere that thrives off minimalism and Justin's charismatic vocals. Even at its darkest, Sway... [cont]
sounds and feels like an artist finally accepting themselves, practicing some good-old-fashioned self-love, and becoming someone entirely new and confident in themselves, both their broken pieces and their positive traits. Where the record struggles is, perhaps predictably, when it tries to recapture the harsher elements of much older records--something that was a reoccurring problem for a while in Blue October's catalog, as it felt like they did it more out of obligation than with purpose. "Hard Candy" and "Put in In" are definitely still guilty pleasures that I can dance to, but the sudden intrusion of Any Man's disgusting rap bullshit in "Light You Up" can kindly fuck off and stop ruining an otherwise brilliant pop song. Even *then*, I can at least accept that it's a decent bridge to the refrain. However, Sway succeeds when it stays reserved and builds upon its atmosphere, and for its first seven songs alone (and the touching final ballad "Not Broken Anymore") it deserves praise.
I Hope You're Happy
In which Blue October figures out how to properly go pop. No, seriously; this is Blue October making sweet, sweet love to the mainstream and pulling it off better than most, somehow nailing the mix that Home wasn't quite able to hit. It means that there's finally less reliance on randomly heavy moments for the sake of heavy (although not entirely avoided; see "Colors Collide" and its awkward social commentary) and instead a turn towards pure atmosphere. Justin and co. stick to their guns and craft something that, in a way, replicates The Answers: a reserved effort crafted out of instrumentals that provide a stable, addicting foundation--nothing out of the ordinary for the influences it draws from--and opens the doors for Justin's performance. As he typically does, Furstenfeld nails it, balancing a melancholic tone ("I Wanna Come Back Home") with his trademark rugged baritone (title track). The melodies are enticing and very catchy, although it comes at the cost of a reduced... [cont]
I Hope You're Happy
role for the violin, with the space instead filled with keys and synth lines. When "King" comes in the record's second half, Blue October string together some of their best ballads of their career, then finally cap it off in the epic closer "Further Dive." You get the ambiance of Sway, the knack for hooks that Approaching Normal possessed, and the cohesion that Home couldn't quite master. It's the culmination of that era of Blue October, and even though it's ranked relatively low here, there's a lot of appreciate for its soothing arrangements and the emotional heart that Justin pours into it.
Foiled being in the middle feels very appropriate; it undoubtedly changed the trajectory of Blue October in both their progression as artists and in their mainstream reputation, and it still remains the album that most defines their work and ethos as a band. Predictably, "Hate Me" plays a massive role in this--it introduced the world at large to Furstenfeld's uniquely open and honest prose--but the group's overall creativity is much more important. The thing is, despite Foiled being known by most to be the band's big mainstream entrance (and make no mistake, it still is/is poppy as hell), it's still pretty *weird* and Blue October-y in its own ways. There's no consistency here; it's teased up through "Hate Me," but then the wheels fall off with the harmonica ballad "Let it Go," the legitimately nu-metal "Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek," the soul-infused "Overweight" which sounds like it samples "Bungalow Bill" (lmao), to the electronic beat and despondent vibe of... [cont]
"X Amount of Words," and so on. The album essentially becomes a grab-bag of single attempts, explorations down different musical routes, and twists on the Blue October formula that throw a wrench into proceedings. As a full-listening experience, the record ultimately suffers, but it also cranks out some of the group's best singles, including their Holy Grail that is "Into the Ocean." There could be an entirely separate list talking about how "Into the Ocean" is the pinnacle of pop music--the addicting melody, that FUCKING chorus, how it dresses up as a bop despite being about suicide--but I'll settle for this: Foiled is not nearly as amazing as it is described by fans, ,but it's far from the abomination detractors label it as. The rockers actually don't fall flat since, well, everything is out of sync so who cares when they come in, Justin's voice remains as powerful and evocative as ever, and the roots of the band remain mostly intact. This is likely the best intro to the band, still.
History for Sale
If there was a 4.5-or-close-to-it tier, we have now arrived. Welcome! Here is History for Sale, an album unfortunately sandwiched between the old-head's pick for best Blue October album in Consent to Treatment and the mainstream hit Foiled. Although it debuts the collective's first hit single ("Calling You"), it feels like a forgotten piece of the group's history, and it's commonly lost in the past despite its pretty favorable critical reception. It's a shame; the album is Sway before Sway, except the moments where it cuts loose are smoothly integrated and are crafted with pristine focus, with the highlight in that regard being the vicious bass-boosted blast of "Razorblade." On the whole, the record is founded upon indie motifs--something that would become all the more prominent on future albums--and it aims to capitalize on what made an LP like The Answers memorable: soul-bearing lyricism, Justin's distinct voice, and instrumentals that decorate the scene but do not dominate it.[cont[
History for Sale
You therefore receive an effort that relies primarily upon acoustic guitars and the violin of Ryan Delahoussaye. The emotions are palpable in this setting, such as the beautiful climax of "Quiet Mind" and its touching lyrics, the understated despair of "Chameleon Boy," and then the vitriolic verses and harsh vocals of "Razorblade" (which they need to play live again, damnit!) The compositions here feel lovely, like a warm winter blanket that can wrap around and keep you safe in a whirlwind of trauma. Minus Foiled, this is an excellent first visit for people wanting to explore Blue October, and its serene soundscapes are gorgeous when at their peaks.
Spinning the Truth Around (Part I)
Where this stands may inevitably be tied into how Part II shakes out (and possibly Part III? Justin is a madlad I swear), but based upon its merits as an individual album, Spinning the Truth Part I deserves to be in the upper echelon of the band's discog. Hype or truth? Well, off the heels of the group's current highpoint (more on that later bb), it is refreshing to hear Justin still tinkering with what defines a Blue October album, once again orchestrating a switch in sound that keeps history in mind while constructing something new. Not since History for Sale did Justin and co. base *this* much of their work on atmosphere alone; Spinning Pt. 1 dismisses rock almost entirely, replacing it with arrangements that rely on soothing textures, ambiance, and gentle soundscapes to tell their stories. Justin's pen game is even reserved here, with his voice merging into the serene environments the album concocts as if he was an instrument himself, coloring the album in a unique atmosphere[cont]
Spinning the Truth Around (Part I)
that makes it automatically stand out from the band's discog. Rather than play it safe to that approach, Justin is more than willing to throw curveballs even when 11 albums deep into his career. The biggest surprise is ultimately the noir sort of vibe that is introduced on "Shape of Your Heart" that is then exaggerated to an incredibly enjoyable extent on centerpiece "When Love Isn't Good Enough," during which Justin beings in an actual opera singer to punctuate the climax. Bold, unexpected, yet pulled off without flaw and resolutely powerful. Really, it defines the whole album: it's a bold departure from what has been expected from this project, and it demonstrates that the songwriting machine is still operational and capable of a plethora of twists. I could go on for hours, but... I hate to plug my review, but check in there. This record is sublime when it comes together.
If History for Sale is the forgotten album, The Answers is the one that practically doesn't exist. Not only did it arrive far before the band rose to prominence, it also sounds massively different from the group's current body of work. Hell, it sounds out of place even when stacked up to its successor; The Answers is partly alternative rock, partly indie with a violin, partly slowcore, and partly country. Those elements are almost entirely divorced from what would arrive in later albums, with the exception of Furstenfeld's lyrics, his instantly recognizable voice, and the evocative violin playing of Delahoussaye. Broken to its base, that's really the center of this album: the dynamic between Delahoussaye's beautiful melodies and Justin bleeding his heart out onto every song. While Blue October has earned it reputation for achingly honest prose, this is where it's at its absolute peak: Justin is losing his mind on this record, no doubt due to his rampant struggles with mental [cont]
health at the time, crumbling relationships, lack of stability, addiction... my man has come a LONG way. His anguish, once paired with Delahoussaye's playing, is enough to make one speechless with its palpable grief and self hatred. Much of the rhythm section here is to play service to that combo, with Jeremy Furstenfeld--Justin's brother and long-time drummer, who did not even know how to play at the time(!)--laying down artfully simplistic foundations that a bouncing bass graciously fills. The rest is left to the lyrics and how Justin's voice and Ryan's violin tell their story. It's a brutal experience, but one where the emotional payoffs are spectacular and the peaks immense. Definitely go into this with a box of tissues; if you're in a bad space of mind, Justin's lyrics can and will mess you up here. Beautiful album, and one not discussed often enough.
Consent to Treatment
Speaking of albums that don't quite match Blue October's current sound, here is the weird post-grunge/nu-metal-plus-violin mishmash that is Consent to Treatment. It retains indie aspects of its predecessor, but whereas The Answers held its arrangements back to let Justin's performance dominate, this record is complete aggression from start to finish. The volume is amped up, Furstenfeld leans further into his harsh vocal inflections, and the drama heightens as a consequence. What sounds like a disaster on paper is one of the more special and ultimately one of the best albums the group has ever made, capable of both stunning with its emotional gut punches and rocking the fuck out with banger after banger. It makes everything about The Answers bigger and grander, from the violin to the bass, but in a way that feels very purposeful and supports the narratives that Justin spins from his pen. The album, similarly to Foiled, is a great crowd pleaser in that most listeners can come in [cont]
Consent to Treatment
and walk away with their needs satisfied. Ballads? Check in on "The Answers," a rerecording of the prior LP's title track. Infectious bass groove? "Independently Happy." The electric Delahoussaye-Furstenfeld connection? It's on full throttle on "HRSA," a top tune by Blue October that exhibits emotional prose (as to be expected, but it's even BETTER here woah) tied to an overarching violin melody, sliding guitar, and an upbeat percussion kit that keeps the energy of the tune pumping. The highlights are many, the climaxes are stunners, Justin's voice steals the show at multiple points... it's a captivating exposition of creative songwriting in a genre that doesn't often (or at all? Gimme examples) toss a violin at its audience and integrates it so seamlessly with biting electric guitars. There's a reason this one sits well with fans and critics long after its release; it's novel, it brings infinitely memorable phrases to the table that cut deep into mental health issues, andFUCKOUTOFROOM
This Is What I Live For
For most of the post-Foiled era, it felt as though Justin was chasing down a pop-rock epic. He wanted something grand in scale that encompassed all of his inspirations and the Blue October sound, something that managed to create a seamless flow, and something that capitalized upon his desire to get serious about recovery and becoming happy. The man had evolved a lot at this point; he settled down, became a dad, got married, got sober, and ultimately went to battle against his mental health dilemmas and won. Justin was a more positive force, albeit one with human struggles like any other man (in American lol, sorry I had to, this joke isn't funnyFUCK), and he wanted the music to reflect that. With little fanfare, with little note on any website, and in a year where everybody was concerned with just staying inside and surviving, Blue October accomplished their magnum opus. And, boy oh boy, is it absolutely a masterwork in every sense of the word.
This Is What I Live For
This is an LP I *should* review, since there's far too much that is so right about this that I could never hope to describe here. Here's the brief version: cohesion is amazing, this flows like a dream. Lyrically brilliant, and Justin's vocals are just jaw-dropping at times (the chorus on the title track, DAAAAAMN). Instrumentally, it's an immaculate balance of pop bangers and atmospheric cuts, tying together the different eras of the band with confidence and no awkward stumbling. Emotionally, it is euphoric; this is the sound of a man learning to love himself, the world around him, and reaching a point where he finally realize who he is beyond his pain. This album came at a time where I was in a similar spot, and it has been an anthem for bettering myself every since. Not only the group's best effort thus far, but a rock-solid 5. I will throw hands over this. The Spinning Saga is off to an awesome start, so perhaps Blue October may manage to outdo themselves again...
|Whew! Here's a thing nobody asked for but hopefully people enjoy. Buckle up.|
|Bottom line: Any Man's average is WAY too high wtf we doin Sputnik|
don't expect anyone to care
but I'm glad I wrote it.
|I love Foiled but need to check more of these|
|“ need to check more of these”|
I’ve really liked the songs I’ve heard from BO (bo-bo bo bo)
Good list, Mars! Certainly enjoyed reading what you had to say and got me hyped to listen further
|this list rules ive been meaning to get more into this band for years only heard foiled and the idea of like half their discog being better than it has me very intrigued |
|Thanks for checking in everyone!|
As I sort of alluded to in the intro, I love this band and consider all of their work *at least* a 4.0 with the exception of Any Man. Best places to start are probably History for Sale or Foiled, unless you want to be a madlad and go chronologically.
|>don't expect anyone to care|
oh come on
I even read some of it
|Well thanks bb, I appreciate it. I was in a bad mood last night and that didn't really help.|
|Starting on this discog today. Going chronological|
|Yeeees I'm excited!|
|got sidetracked but ill keep going through and give you updates. Liked The Answers but not quite as much as Foiled (which i love and dont mind that its a ton of singles)|
|Finished Consent to Treatment and History for Sale. Both are really great! Liked both more than The Answers and about equal to Foiled so very happy with them|
|Glad to see someone's working through this! The Answers can be pretty weird, especially if you got acquainted with the band in their Foiled era, which most fans likely were; it's pretty far removed from their core sound.|
Am definitely curious on your thoughts for the next albums on your journey...
|I hope bg isn't the only one on a Blue October journey. Keep the train rolling!|
|Storm In A Teacup|
|Good band. Great songwriting. Amazing display of emotion.|
|I agree with all of those statements and would also upgrade them, as this is clearly the best band to ever band.|
|Band is good at banding confirmed|
|I like the one album with the songs, good band effort by the band.|
|I liked Approaching Normal much more than most people it seems. Did not like Any Man in America very much. Your thoughts on it were similar to mine|
|Approaching Normal gets judged for how it stacks up to Foiled. It's unfair, but understandable. I don't think its bangers get nearly enough credit though and a 3.2 average is just silly.|
I wish I could enjoy Any Man, but gosh it's so haphazardly put together and the lyricism/themes are a massive anchor. I think it's something Justin needed to get out of his system, but never should have seen the light of day.