Review Summary: Modern rock's fiercest little girl grows up - and becomes even more fiery.
Flyleaf's self-titled album was something of an anomaly in modern rock - an outwardly and un-apologetically Christian rock band that made it big in the mainstream due to their oddly compelling mix of simplistic, sludgy garage rock fronted by a tiny girl that could muster everything from the most fragile of melodies to the most monstrous of screams. It was the kind of unusually brash rock-and-roll that made it hard for music fans to keep from rooting for the feminine-yet-feminist Lacey Moseley and her spunky rock outfit. But as the novelty wore thin and two noticeably more cleanly-produced albums came and went, Flyleaf become something of an interesting footnote in Christian rock history. I admit that I stopped listening after Memento Mori
and did not pick up where I left off until the change of lead singer to Kristen May got the better of my curiosity.
Lacey left, and got married, and wrote a book. That's the extent of what I knew, as of a few weeks ago, the feisty little girl of Flyleaf had done with her life. I was understandably surprised to see that she was releasing a solo album, but not particularly excited - I immediately assumed that this would be some sort of intimate, vulnerable acoustic act from a more mature, restrained Lacey Sturm.
I need not have worried so. Life Screams
is aptly titled, and Sturm pulls no punches. This is a hard rock album through-and-through; and while stylistically, it's nothing to get weak at the knees over, this record puts Sturm at the forefront and gives her ample opportunity to demonstrate why she is easily one of rock and roll's greatest vocalists.
It makes sense that, as a young woman, Sturm would pen lyrics that relate best to other women (just like she has in the past with Flyleaf), but the issues are far larger than herself here - she tackles abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, loneliness, anguish, pain, and loss, all through the lens of her faith and her infectious enthusiasm. These are messages anyone
can get behind, and there's an undeniable postivity entwined throughout all of the songs here. It's even better, then, that they are conveyed with a strong sense of urgency, passion, and emotion. "Impossible" kick-starts the record with a gentle, lilting, melancholic descant, moving into strained, distorted vocals before launching into an all-out scream. This is within the first few seconds of the record,
and her performance throughout gets steadily more impressive. One particular highlight is an unexpected spoken word segment with hip-hop artist Propaganda in "Vanity" before unleashing hard rock fury in "Rot." She's no less capable when carrying mid-tempo power ballads either, such as the title track and the especially expressive closing track, "Run to You."
But even if this is clearly Lacey's album, her husband Joshua is equally deserving of accolade. He may not be the most technically proficient guitarist in the genre, but he proves himself to be completely competent and highly versatile. "The Soldier," for instance, is strongly reminiscent of Audioslave, complete with an atmospheric, heavily-effected guitar solo that would make Morello proud. "I'm Not Laughing," a fist-pumping album highlight, sees the Sturm couple pulling some tricks from The Fear of God
-era Showbread. "You're Not Alone" wouldn't sound out of place on a Red album, and Skillet's Comatose
influence is most clearly heard in "Feel Like Forever." But Joshua Sturm really gets the chance to shine on the surprisingly cohesive live cover of The Police's "Roxanne," where he works the guitar hard through the whole song and delivers a phenomenal performance. There's a lot of rock-and-roll ground to cover here, and the Sturm duo do an admirable job of covering it all.
As a somewhat mainstream modern rock record, there are two major caveats: both thematically and stylistically, there is very little here that has not been covered in the past - sometimes, by Lacey Sturm herself. Moreover, the production is occasionally off-point - particularly in "Impossible," where the guitars are inexplicably covered up by the "woah-oh's" and synths during the chorus, and in "Rot," where the initial buildup results in a strangely unsatisfying "thud" instead of a "chug" - likely due to over-compression of the track. But I admit that I'm needlessly nitpicking here, because to expect an unrivaled instrumental performance to preempt the vocalist it plays background to would be, frankly, ludicrous.
So what we're left with is a very straightforward modern rock album that is elevated to greatness by the sheer power and authority of Lacey Sturm's vocal performance. And that's really okay - not everything has to be some new experience or some unusual stylistic mash-up to achieve noteworthiness or relevance. Sometimes, it's all about the penmanship and performance, and there are precious few that can write and sing like Sturm. Here's to hoping this is not the last we hear Lacey scream.