Review Summary: A solid outing that ultimately falls short of its predecessors.
There is a certain unwritten expectation within the music industry that as a band or musician releases new material throughout the span of their career that their sound will mature, the artist will experiment and/or evolve. At the same time, there is also a level of expectation from the fans that the sound they've become accustomed to will remain somewhat consistent with each release. This often leads to a juxtaposition that is not easily balanced. Artists that stick closely to their own sound are usually criticized for playing it safe and not pushing the boundaries while others that stray too far from the beaten path are decried by the purists in their fanbase. This quandary is where Red finds themselves smack-dab in the middle of for their sixth studio album, Gone.
To start, anyone who has listened to more than a handful of Red's songs knows that Red's discography has always been inseparably tied to orchestral elements with the only exception being 2013's Release The Panic. That particular album was ill received by most fans and Red went scrambling back to a more traditional sound for 2015's Of Beauty and Rage. Bad press not withstanding, Red has decided to peek out from underneath their shell and dip a toe or two into the murky waters of pop/electronic almost as if to see what they can get away with before their fans cry foul. The effort as a whole is relatively solid but often seems uninspired. The change seems born more out of a fear of stagnating than it does from genuine creativity.
However, it should be noted that the weaknesses of Gone only become apparent when considered in the context of Red's previous works. While there really isn't a flat out "bad" song on the album it still feels as if most of it has been done a little bit better on prior records. For example, the ballad "Coming Apart" is perfectly serviceable but lacks the impact of "Hymn For The Missing" or "Pieces." Similarly, rockers like "Step Inside The Violence" seem somewhat contrived in comparison to "Gravity Lies" or "Feed The Machine." The layout is also a bit awkward with the poppier tracks grouped together in the middle and detracts from the cohesion of the record.
These flaws would not be as glaring if it weren't for two things. First off, certain parts feel as if they were copied directly off of a Starset record and pasted into the album. The space age sounds at the beginning and ending of "A.I." and "Singularity" are right out of the Starset handbook and are more annoying than they are interesting. Secondly, Red's cover of Sia's "Unstoppable" is an almost unforgivable low point on the album. Red is not a stranger to covers as they did an excellent rendition of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" on Innocence and Instinct. Yet when Gone as an album hits the point where it needs another dose of adrenaline after two softer songs, all we get is a hokey pop song that isn't even original to Red.
There are numerous strengths, though. Lead singer, Michael Barnes, is spot on with his vocal delivery for the entire duration of the record and the emotion in his voice is palpable. Whereas some of the vocals on Red's last album, Of Beauty and Rage, sounded a little off key and a bit rough around the edges at times, Gone is polished and smooth. Also, hard hitting songs such as "A.I." and "Losing Control" are excellent additions to Red's catalog. Furthermore, the melodies on Gone are stronger than what we've seen from the band on their last two albums. Red also managed to create a follow up to Of Beauty and Rage that feels like its own album rather than something to mooch off the success of the last record.
After all is said and done, though, it seems that Red would have been better served to have continued to pursue the dark, brooding aspect of their music that they craft so well rather than pushing for what's different regardless of their ability to do it. Red hasn't jumped off the deep end but rather they sacrificed some of their strengths to pursue what they are merely "okay" at.
For all that, though, much of what is intrinsically good about Red is still present on Gone. The epic nature of Red's sound is mostly preserved and those who have been longtime fans will likely still find plenty to like about Gone.