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The Sound Of A Changing Band.
on 17 January 2011
Stereophonics 3rd album saw them trying to take their sound to the world, or more specifically the US, a trend which can be seen by one glance at the big tyre and 'J.E.E.P.' title. The third album is notoriously difficult for rock bands as they often have to adapt their sound to avoid being pigeonholed and this presented Stereophonics with a tough choice....
Their previous two LP's saw the band display both a fantastic ability for acoustic numbers as well as big stadium rock and 'JEEP' saw the band explore their acoustic talents a lot more. In fact, bar the opener "Vegas Two Times" we get very little electric work at all. This may disappoint some fans however they did later go onto rediscover their rock ability on their 2005 LP so all is not lost. When you take this album for what it is, it actually folds out quite nicely but does not compare to the electrifying start this group made to their career with "Word Gets Around" and "Performance & Cocktails".
They didn't help themselves too much either, with the first single "Mr. Writer" virtually killing the band's relationship with the media and heralding a slew of unfavourable reviews on the album. The track is a rant from Jones about the obsessive nature of journalists who use the "build them up, shoot them down" mentality and Jones pulls no punches, pointing out that they have no idea what they are talking about at all. From a band who had previously never been the victims of poor media attention, many rock critics saw this as a suicide move and it certainly slowed the album's media credibility, something they would not overcome until 2005's unexpected return to form "Language, Sex, Violence, Other".
The songwiting from Jones is great as ever, his cynical wit has developed into a real force and is really what holds the LP together and cements him as a great songwriter. However, no matter how great the songwriting skills or the tunes actually are, if you put an album together featuring all slow paced acoustic tracks you run the risk of becoming, well, sleepy.
This really hinders the album and at times you will be waiting for the next track to start and literally praying for Jones to crank out a hard guitar riff and let rip with his trademark hacksaw voice, but unfortunately for this LP, that moment only happens in the closing stages of the album's final song, "Rooftop".
That being said, there is more than enough quality within the acoustic tracks on display here to make any fan of Jones' softer work listen to this LP over and over again. Tracks like the catchy "Step On My Old Size Nines" and "Maybe" show why Jones is held in high regard, his ability to fuse good lyrics with simple yet effective tunes is uncanny. A fantastic cover of "Handbags And Gladrags" is also a welcome addition to the 'phonics' back catalogue.
One reason this band have established themselves so highly is their rather beautiful nature of combining dark lyrical content with strangely upbeat tunes, fooling the listener into a feel-good mood whilst Kelly Jones delivers cynical humourous lyrics about a variety of touchy subjects. This was a craft they absolutely perfected with the ludicrously catchy "Have A Nice Day", a song which went onto become a massive summer chart hit and although is recognized as a popular upbeat summer tune it actually features Jones in fine sarcastic form, singing about a taxi ride he took in the USA where he and the cab driver discussed their hates about the world including the celebrity obsessed culture, basically the exact people who were all of a sudden Stereophonics' number one fans and singing the lyrics without even knowing. Jones has to be credited with his ability to do bring the listener into the song and buy into his created world whilst he literally has his way with them, a trick which has rarely been since since Kurt Cobain's epic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" which was a tune geared against the exact people who were buying it after the band began 'trendy'.
This album does suffer termendously from lack of pace, making even quality material sound sleepy. It is in fact saved from mediocrity by it's oustanding last track, "Rooftop". Continuing Stereophonics' tradition of finishing each album on a dark track, "Rooftop" is a slow building acoustic number which generates Jones' cynical rage before exploding into a thick effects driven epic. If anything, you'll be grateful for the sound of Cable bashing his drums the way he was meant to, the way he had not done on the album so far bar the opening track, but Jones literally achieves the album's high point when "Rooftop" changes direction at the halfway point and the talented rock singer with the hacksaw vocals finally lets himself belt out a few lines. There is something truly beautiful about Kelly Jones going at full pelt with a backdrop of loud guitars, and this final track of the album serves to remind people that whilst the band have explored their acoustic side on this LP they still have a tendancy to get loud.
In hindsight, 'JEEP' is an accomplished album with several recognizable songs yet it suffers from the fact that there is no variety in the sound of the songs and no changes of pace in the album's tracklisting. This unfairly hinders it a little bit, and it remains the band's most difficult album to date. But one thing is certain, whilst the band were trying to break America with this LP they wanted to do it on their own terms and were very clear that they would change their sound for nobody.