As I get older, there are certain bands that I like to consider as “my bands”. The ones that I will always follow, through thick and thin – Oasis, Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind, Manic Street Preachers. At some point, I decided these bands were worth sticking with; that even if they put out an inferior album, I would not abandon ship and stay the course. These bands are worth venturing out to the store on day one of release and picking up the physical copy of their new albums. Welsh rockers Stereophonics also fall into this category.
In a lot of ways, my journey as a Stereophonics fan has been more turbulent than with other bands. I’ve been on board since their debut album “Word Gets Around” back in 1997 and their first four albums are all classics as far I as I’m concerned. The pinnacle of the band’s first phase was their fourth record “You Gotta Go There To Come Back” which was a bluesey, soul driven rock record that is still an absolute gem. Following that album, the band made a major change to their sound and moved into more straight-ahead, and sometimes boring and generic direction. Since then, every Stereophonics record has been a bit of a mixed bag. Their 2009 effort “Keep Calm and Carry On” was the closest they’d come to re-capturing some of their lost magic, but the album was a critical and commercial failure, so I think the band looks at it as a dark spot in their catalog. And by no means do I expect the Stereophonics to try and replicate their earlier sound, it bothers me when fans expect a band that is changing and evolving over the years to try and sound like their first record (or second, or third). I’ve said before in previous reviews that I am always down to take the musical journey with my favourite bands, through the good and the bad.
And as I said before, Stereophonics is one of those bans that I will stick with no matter what. And so that brings us to their 9th album – “Keep The Village Alive”. I’ve given the album a few solid listens and unfortunately it’s another uneven affair. Overall, I would rate this album above their last effort “Graffiti On The Train”, which was kind of bloated and over-dramatic. This record is a bit lighter, and the first single “C’est La Vie” is a really great song that brings some much needed buoyancy to their sound. It’s got a great melody and the lyrics are more like something lead singer Kelly Jones would have done on the first two records. I was disappointed when this trend didn’t continue throughout the rest of “Keep The Village Alive”. The following track “White Lies” is pleasant but immediately brings the band back into middle of the road territory and settles there. However, the album does have its bright spots – “Sing Little Sister”, “Song For The Summer”, “My Hero” and “Ancient Rome” (from the deluxe edition) all have signs of life in them, so it’s not a completely lost cause. But in typical Stereophonics phase two fashion, there are only a handful of tracks that stand up. I was thinking if I compiled all the songs I liked from the last four records into one album, it would be pretty great. It’s why iTunes playlists were invented, really.
As a dedicated Stereophonics fan, I was disappointed the band didn’t try something different, or at least follow the different direction a track like “C’est La Vie” could have led them. But I am a true fan, and since the band puts out a new album every two years like clockwork, I won’t have to wait too long for them to try again. And I will most definitely see them in concert if they come this way, because they are an excellent live band.
SIDE NOTE: Trying to actually physically purchase this album has been a bit of a chore. I know the Stereophonics are not a household name in North America, and I know record stores aren’t really in the business of procuring new albums from 20 year British bands for me. But none of the record stores in Hamilton carried it, Amazon.com didn’t have it in stock, Amazon.ca didn’t even have it listed, and the official Phonics website was going to charge me 25 bucks for it before shipping. I feel like the world is telling me “Nick, just buy it off iTunes you old school, CD loving bastard” but I will not give in! Being the intrepid consumer I am, I found a lone copy of the deluxe edition of “Keep The Village Alive” in an HMV when I was randomly in Mississauga the other day. But it still boggles my mind how in 2015, it’s THAT hard to find a CD by a well known band, even if they are international. Plus, the album debuted at #1 on the UK album charts so that’s something! END RANT.
Here are the first two singles from “Keep The Village Alive” – “C’est La Vie” and “I Wanna Get Lost With You” – ENJOY!