Review Summary: "They're cancelling your feelings"
The last time that we had heard of anything new related to Shinedown was back in 2018 when they released Attention Attention
. That was four years ago, and within that span it ultimately seems like a completely different world. From the pandemic, warfare, nuclear threats, conspiracy theories, and the overall toxic political climate, 2022 is ripe with so many problems where we feel so powerless to stop them, and music seems to be one of the main things that people have been turning to as a means to escape the world of today. As a result, we’ve seen (and heard) numerous amounts of artists of many different genres attempting to capitalize on the turmoil by releasing a lot of politically driven music over the past couple of years. And now it’s Shinedown’s turn to drive the political train in what lead singer Brent Smith describes as their “controversial” album.
In a sense it’s somewhat odd for Shinedown to make a political album. They’ve made an occasional statement here and there, most notably the lead single “Devour” off of 2008’s The Sound of Madness
being Smith’s hatred towards then-president George W. Bush and the ongoing war in Iraq at the time. Yet overall, Shinedown have shied away from creating a full on politically motivated record, something that more and more bands of their ilk have been doing in recent years. That being said however, it’s hard not to see the temptation to not do so given the lyrical goldmine that’s been given to these musicians. What’s not that big of a surprise however, is the somewhat right-wing slant that Shinedown has presented in their latest record, Planet Zero
. Here, the record takes shots at social media, cancel culture, government censorship, and the overall violations of human rights via limiting free speech, topics that every Fox News watcher/Trump supporting sweaty, obese white guy in their 50s or 60s often cry about.
The “concept” of Planet Zero
is really nothing more than your typical Orwellian theme of an alien planet where you’re given a tour of said planet as you’re being shown how oppressive it is when it comes to free speech and thought. It’s important to note that the “concept” is really only told through several narrative interludes that frankly don’t really do anything other than describe the laws of the eponymous Planet Zero and that you’ll only be okay if you say what the rulers want. If anything, the whole record would’ve benefitted without these interludes, as they take away the consistency and the flow of the record as a way to tell a story that’s lacking…well a story. The songs themselves are more or less Shinedown’s attempts at sending a message about specific topics. The title track serves as the on-the-nose criticism on cancel culture and censorship, “America Burning” not-so-subtly discusses how America is constantly divided and at arms with itself, “Clueless and Dramatic” takes aim at social media, misinformation and disinformation, while “The Saints of Violence and Innuendo” takes a shot on the George Floyd riots. However, before you can say “OK Boomer”, not every single track is meant to be some controversial message, as the main ballads of the record, “Dysfunctional You”, “A Symptom of Being Human”, “Hope”, and “Daylight” are meant to be more personal messages, mainly towards Smith and his previous life as a drug addict during the early years of Shinedown, themes that seem to be carried over from Attention Attention
. The ballads at the very least, break up the lyrical monotony as well as musically.
Instrumentation-wise however, Planet Zero
is arguably Shinedown’s heaviest album since The Sound of Madness
. Gone are most of the pop electronics and melodies from the previous records, and marks a return to the much awaited raw and anthemic sound that had made Shinedown so recognizable and memorable to begin with, and thankfully most of the record in very consistent with this. Opener “No Sleep Tonight” in particular starts the record off with a much more thrashy and punk-esuqe vibe with Zach Meyer’s slick guitar work leads the charge, while “Dead Don’t Die” is meant to be the arena-ready anthemic track that the band are usually masters of, with it’s incredibly catchy hooks of the chorus and syncopated rhythms that will likely worm your way into your ear pretty quickly. Brent’s vocal delivery is top notch as well, with Berry Kerch’s fantastic drumming, the latter being highlighted on tracks like “America Burning” and “Army of the Underappreciated”, while Eric Bass’s production work helps keep all the instrumentation together in a very clean, crisp, stadium ready sound. The only real outlier in the record is closer “What You Wanted”, which contains a rather odd marching band, theatrical sound to it, causing the record to end somewhat anti-climatically. While Planet Zero
may not break new ground in terms of instrumentation and production, it’s still done very well, especially for a band that’s over 20 years old.
If the political themes of Planet Zero
are enough to turn you away from this record, then I wouldn’t blame you. On the surface, it sounds like a story that a typical MAGA-hatted fat guy would read while he is watching Tucker Carlson. Thankfully though, said political themes never go as far as Brent Smith drinking the Kool-Aid, and even with that said, the themes and topics explored on Planet Zero
are still issues that are worth discussing, even if the message that’s being said does come off as poorly thought out. However, for those who either don’t mind the political slant, or are disappointed in the last few Shinedown records, Planet Zero
is certainly an album worth listening to. The hooks and anthems, Brent Smith’s down-to-earth vocal performance, and the overall arena-rock sound that Shinedown have established throughout the years, it’s all there and it’s done very well for the most part. Here’s hoping, that as the world heals (assuming that it ever will), that Shinedown will continue to deliver banger songs without ever slowing down…though perhaps with a bit less boomer mentality.