Review Summary: Out of control...
After refining their country-meets-pop sound, Zac Brown Band decided to experiment more in order to broaden their target audience. Constantly adding members to the line-up to bring several new influences to the table, they have released their most eclectic record to date, Jekyll + Hyde
. The guys have showed signs of transition the moment they added rock to the mix on Uncaged
and The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1
, but this Hyde
side here branches out more than it should have for its own good. In a way it's refreshing, because the listening experience resembles a nice radio station broadcasting for an hour or so. You get all these different styles all boldly intertwined and even though it doesn't always suit your tastes, it's hard to shut it down. However, you quickly realize something is wrong and ask yourself why nobody stopped them from reaching so far out their comfort zone. This wild diversity didn't help at all, since some decisions will make you question their credibility.
Unfortunately, Brown & Co. don't waste any time to introduce the listener to some of their missteps. Channeling Avicii and his hit single, 'Wake Me Up', them boys present their Eurovision-ready dance cuts: 'Beautiful Drug' and 'Tomorrow Never Comes'. If you are a lucky owner of the vinyl version, you'll sure have these opening two different sides. The songs themselves aren't necessarily cringe worthy, but this electronic country simply doesn't suit their style and image. It's only a matter of time until some *** DJ will remix these and get played on every radio station and club around the world. There's also the swing number, 'Mango Tree', featuring Sara Bareilles, which is an admirable move, especially since the band manages to pull it off quite nicely, yet again it's so out of place here it doesn't help the album at all. Moreover, 'Castaway', the soundtrack to a tropicalia summer party, will surely raise an eyebrow too. Still, it's a minor damage compared to some of the aforementioned tracks. These should've been placed on a deluxe edition maybe, if they wanted so bad to include them somewhere.
Thankfully, we have the Jekyll
side to compensate for all the crazy experiments. Songs like the beautiful 'Homegrown' and 'Remedy' remind us how well can they pull off country tunes with a laid back feel. The violins, banjos and acoustic guitars create that pastoral atmosphere and the vocal harmonies are ace like always. Meanwhile, the collaboration with Chris Cornell on 'Heavy Is The Head' is another strong point here that shows Zac & the gang should've embraced hard rock as it acts like a natural progression, mainly after their previous affairs. 'Junkyard' toys with this heavier style, creating a groovy, mid-tempo epic that stands out amid this mess. Still, of all the good moments here, the most gorgeous one is the lovely ballad 'Dress Blues'. Originally written by Drive-By Truckers' Jason Isbell, this cover is so touching that for 5 minutes you seem to forget them for all the weird stuff they'd thrown in between. This is a perfect opportunity for the rich orchestration the band provides and Zac's warm voice to really bring out the best in them. It might be a bit polished for purists, nevertheless, 'Dress Blues' is one of their most touching numbers so far.
As the rest of the material here lies somewhere in the alternative country territory with pop leanings, you cannot help but notice how Zac Brown Band aspires in a way to become Nashville's Dave Matthews Band. It's understandable since there is a wide array of highly gifted musicians behind the music and all of them have matured their approach, thus being capable to create just about anything they set their mind to. Even so, I hope Jekyll + Hyde
is just a transition point and not the blueprint for future projects. Although not all experiments have been successful, self-indulgence speaks for itself as it's clear they had lots of fun creating this varied collection of songs. You can't blame them for trying something new, yet I wish someone had helped them sort the track list out. A shorter, more focused affair could've easily been just as essential as Uncaged
, while other cuts might have been more suitable for side projects or standalone singles. Few people will enjoy the album from start to finish, being clearly sewn to have something appealing to just about everyone, so pick up what you like and add it to your collection.