Review Summary: Playing it too safe delivers a handful of satisfactory songs which will never make it onto a 'Best of' album
Upon completing my first listen of 'Walk the Sky' I felt quite excited. The Alter Bridge that I loved was back full force after 'The Last Hero' which I found to be thoroughly underwhelming. 'WTS' returns to a sound akin to that found on 'Fortress', one that is heavier and generally more commercial, propped up by a few standout moments. Indeed after listening through a few more times, I became convinced that this would become one of my favorite AB records.
Time passed and I listened to other bands on my playlist. One of these happened to the latest solo-project offering from AB axeman Mark Tremonti, inviting obvious comparisons. While I listened to 'A Dying Machine' with extra attention, I came to the realization that I much preferred this record to 'WTS' in virtually all aspects: writing, themes, song structure, recording, mixing and just general impression. This ultimately led me to the simple conclusion that 'WTS' fails to demonstrate the significant potential that AB possesses as a band, while also never really offering any of the members an opportunity to truly stand out and shine, with the possible exception of Myles.
As someone who is quite familiar with the various side projects related to AB such as the aforementioned Tremonti as well as Projected, Slash and the Conspirators and the Mayfield Four, I consider myself rather well versed in the musical talents of Myles, Mark, Brian and Scott. Simply stated, WTS fails to capitalize on and exhibit their talents. One only has to listen to the first three AB records to realize that, as a group AB delivered superior performances like the seminal 'Blackbird' several years prior to most of the aforementioned side-project experiences even took place.
I found it perplexing that such talented and well-experienced musicians would tone down the quality of their writing and playing at this stage of their careers after extensive work in other acts and gaining significant tour experience. However, I believe there are two primary explanations for this. Interviews indicate that much of the material off 'WTS' was written by Mark and Myles in the absence of the rhythm section, in a rather hurried fashion. This is likely (at least in part) due to the busy careers these men have built, as alluded to earlier. Furthermore, I think it plausible that AB are purposefully tuning their style to target a commercial sound that will receive more radio play. I feel that AB are an underrated act (if such as thing exists), failing to gain the extensive exposure in the States when compared to the adoration they appear to enjoy in Europe. Considering that these men all have to eat at the end of the day in a market which is becoming increasingly saturated, this move is somewhat justified.
In terms of highlights on the album, the slower, ballad-type songs continue to be AB’s strongest offerings. 'The Bitter End', 'Godspeed' and particularly 'Dying Light' competently capture the melancholic, yet somehow uplifting essence of classic AB tracks like 'Watch Over You' and 'In Loving Memory'. On the heavier side of things, I particularly enjoyed 'Indoctrination' which features a Sitar-like instrument and a wicked beat and 'Forever Falling', which sees Tremonti taking lead duty following his significant improvement as frontman of his own act. Myles’ vocals generally sound closer to the classic AB sound as opposed to the 'The Last Hero', where his performance mimicked the ‘classic glam-rock’ style he employs when partnering with Slash. The lyrical complexity of 'WTS' has undoubtedly been reduced compared to AB’s older works, which often featured clever metaphors and beautiful imagery, which I failed to experience here. Nevertheless, Myles continues to be an absolute powerhouse vocalist in the contemporary rock scene. The instrumentals are perfectly solid, but lack the complexity, layering and frequent changes in pace found in AB’s earlier records, leaving an ever-so-slightly underwhelming impression.
Ultimately, 'WTS' offers perfectly competent hard rock that is almost certain to satisfy long-term fans. However, in the same breath the offering is disappointing when considering the sheer talent of the musicians involved was not fully utilized. The album is simply not as memorable as some of AB's older albums, and offers no stand out moments that make me want to return over and over. Given longer writing periods with the whole band together, I truly believe AB has the potential to deliver something truly extraordinary, which 'WTS' sadly is not.
For now, 'Walk the Sky' will find a comfortable home in my playlists next to the bands’ previous works, but I doubt any of these tracks will be remembered as their best, which is the records biggest sin.