They have strayed a long way from their roots in Seattle’s legendary grunge scene, which also spawned one of lead guitarist Stone Gossard’s other bands – Pearl Jam. Back then they sounded like a downbeat Red Hot Chili Peppers (before the Y2K bug turned the Chilis into a boyband).
Change and experimentation can be a good thing, but Brad have mellowed too much and now resemble Counting Crows. They’ve lost the rawness and occasional moodiness they showed in the ‘90s, and have picked up a fondness for the piano. The culmination of all this is the disappointing “United We Stand”.
It did grow on me, but it wasn’t really something I wanted to grow on me – more of an ugly bruise. But calling it a bruise seems too violent and dramatic for this fairly middle-of-the-road work.
Songs such as “Diamond Blues”, like much of the album, say little. “A Reason To Be In My Skin”, with its interesting title, promises but fail to deliver. It (and others) falls back onto clichés: ‘Your soul is beautiful/Your heart shines bright/Your touch is electric/Whoa whoa’.
Are lines like these really the best they can do? Did they just borrow them from a Hallmark card or Sandra Bullock’s latest ‘film’?
More sadly generic lyrics come with “Tea Bag”:‘Rolling like thunder in my 1995 Impala/Tell me something now don’t you wanna go for a ride ‘cos you wanna?’
At the risk of going off on a slightly confused tangent, why are cars such a staple of American-penned songs? Other than Gary Numan, Madness and a couple of others, I can’t think of any British artists who focus on cars. Maybe singing about ‘Popping down to Asda in my souped-up Astra’ just wouldn’t work.
But then neither does this. Not for me anyhow.
There are some positives in amongst the mediocrity. “Getting Through The Day”, hidden second-to-last, is a welcome surprise. Although it’s a simple song – both in terms of composition and lyrics – I think it’s the most distinctive and honest on the album. Lead singer Shawn Smith’s voice is also a pleasure to listen to on this track. And he does have an impressively varied vocal range.
On “Bound In Time” and “Needle And Thread” Smith displays his soulful side, bringing to mind Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley.
The last track, “Waters Deep Rivers Wide”, even sees him do a passable Tina Turner impression. But maybe the main refrain just reminds me of Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High”. Either way, being reminded of Tina Turner isn’t a good thing, and this song is a dull finale to a largely forgettable record.
In common with countless bands, Brad could be said to have peaked with their first album – “Shame”. I would recommend giving that a listen rather than this.