This is the last album we'll be hearing from the mighty Hot Water Music for a while, as lead singer Chuck Ragan has chosen to spend time with his family, thus putting the band into hiatus. Thankfully, HWM have given us an epic "goodbye-for-now" to chew on until their eventual return, in the form of "The New What Next."
They've taken the melting pot of influences that they so cleverly utilised in the past and taken it in a distinctly straight ahead rock direction. Thats not to say there's none of the punk/hardcore that we're used to, but this time it's more focussed. Generally the tempo is a little slower, and the gruffness of the vocals have been toned down a little, but far from being any more commercial or "sellout" as many may say, "The New What Next" is in fact less accessible than it's predecessor "Caution." It is much less instant, and many of the songs are the kind that grows on you over time. You"ll notice a few standout tracks to begin with, but after a few listens, you"ll appreciate the sheer scope of the album. Every track stands alone as a brilliant piece of music.
The musicianship is as tight as ever, and the band adapt to the new slower style with aplomb. The vocals, although less gruff and with less screaming/shouting than before, are nevertheless impressive, but the tunes themselves are of an altogether different breed to those which made "Caution" so distinctive. Gone, for the most part, are the sections of multilayered screams with melodies which blessed older songs like "Remedy" and "The Sense," and in their place are dreamy harmonised melodies, something best shown on tracks such as "The Ebb And Flow" and "Bottomless Flows." However, "Poison" and "Giver" could have happily slotted in anywhere on the band"s previous two releases, and this is no bad thing, as not only does it give more variety to the record, but it also shows the progression the band has made. The former begins the record with the line "I could waste away with politics, Drown myself with wine, Confine myself to solitude, And inject poison into my mind" showing that the band haven"t lost their unique lyrical touch (needless to say, this high quality continues throughout).
Despite the change in vocal style, the choruses still soar, especially in highlight "The End Of The Line." "Under Everything" is another good example. Starting out as an ominous mid-paced rocker, with some brilliantly accurate bass-pedal work and great tunes and lyrics referencing "The End" from "Caution," it breaks into a relatively subdued but sublimely tuneful chorus, which ends with the philosophical line of "Time is such a wasted luxury." The band even attempt what can only be described as a rock-ballad or sorts, entitled "Ink And Lead," which is tastefully and successfully pulled off. After a brilliant intro high-energy bass and guitar lines weaving in and out of each other, "This Early Grave" goes on to incorporate almost all of the styles that permeate the rest of the album like the rings of a tree.
In a sense, likening "The New What Next" to a tree is a suitable analogy, since it is the sound of HWM spreading their branches into new areas, and in doing so, reaching new heights in both creativity and quality, and subsequently finding themselves perched high above the rest of the current punk rock scene.
What at first seemed like a massive disappointment after the sheer ecstasy of "Caution," has since blossomed through numerous listens, into a truly amazing record similar in scope and new horizons to Thrice"s "Vheissu" in terms of progression from previous work. Ultimately, if you like any of Hot Water Music"s previous work, then there"ll be something here for you, even if you"re a fan of the older, more hardcore material, but I could also confidently recommend this record to a fan of such bands as Foo Fighters, or Feeder or (insert other well-known commercial rock band here), as I feel it would significantly educate them about more underground-orientated music, such is the scope of "The New What Next."
MY RATING ----> 4.5/5