Review Summary: Goodnight, Goodbye
As is customary for the genre when bands reach their fourth or fifth album, J. Loren and company advertised The Crux
as a return-to-roots. Goodbye to the Machine
, after all, was met with lukewarm reception, and continuing the mainstream-oriented pop rock sensibilities of their 2009 release seemed a risky path to take-- albeit one most fans expected the band to take regardless. The bizarre, radio-tailored single “Numbers” and the similarly underwhelming “How We End Up Alone” did nothing to raise expectations. Surely there are only so many twitter updates along the lines of “Who’s ready to RAWK SOME FACES OFF tonight Oklahoma??” to which a man can turn a blind eye before coming to terms with the truth-- which makes The Crux
all the more difficult to analyze.
In a rare twist, Hurt has essentially fulfilled their promise. Their new record is much heavier than Goodbye to the Machine
. In fact, it’s heavy in all the places it should be heavy. It’s soft in the places it should be soft. Loren adds some strings where he should add some strings. And as a result, it all becomes one huge overcalculated mess.
In its defense, The Crux
is razor-sharp compared to the crisp, muted production of Machine
, and quite honestly anything the band has ever put out. The newly established double-guitar assault from Paul Spatola and Michael Roberts lends a whole new dimension to tracks like opener “So When”, which erupts into one of the band’s more powerful choruses. At the other end of the spectrum, “Links & Waves” is a beautiful intermediary piece-- think “Aftermath”, or even the swirling guitars of The Rising Tide
-era Sunny Day Real Estate.
The new approach, however, is much more curse than blessing. Hurt’s best tool as a band has always been their subtlety—from the slowburners of yesteryear to the mid-tempo alternative rock jams that populated their last record, everything was kept tasteful. J. Loren, after all, is the man who had a panic attack and had to be thrown in a dumpster after the production of Volume II
wasn’t quite to his liking, which leads one to wonder how he ever approved this new, balls-out approach. A few songs notwithstanding, it fits the band incredibly poorly. From the meaningless, heavy meandering on more than half the tracks here to the dual-guitar smash!! solos, The Crux
comes off as a blatant effort to mimic the heaviness of Volume 1
, an attempt that after an adequate first few tracks promptly falls on its face.
Even Loren, whose passionate vocals have served as a welcome constant throughout his band’s history, takes a backseat here. Too often is he drowned in the wake of the guitars, or worse, delivers a mediocre performance. The album’s lyrics touch on the typical Loren subjects-- love lost and questions of faith-- but do so in a blunt, atypically basic fashion. “Links & Waves” begins with a cry of “Oh, she was wonderful!” while the potentially intriguing “Adonai,” is ruined by lines like “And though it really isn't likely that you exist at all, I'm asking most politely to the one who made it all.”
Sure, they didn’t stray further into Goodbye to the Machine
territory, but in trying to avoid doing so Hurt have created easily their worst record. No matter what the band said prior to release, no one (I hope) was expecting “Rapture” part II. But by the time the poorly disguised radio rock ballad “Caught in the Rain” (complete with a mini-breakdown in the chorus, because this is heavy, remember?) hits the speakers, you wish Loren would just pick up an acoustic guitar and sing a ditty about dysfunctional families on too much medication again. It’ll appeal to heavy mainstream rock enthusiasts, but who else?
In the end, it’s really all about expectations with The Crux. If you were expecting a masterpiece, look elsewhere. If you were expecting a train wreck (guilty), you were wrong. If you were expecting a wholly unremarkable record, well, bingo.