With a career spanning two decades and nine studio albums, it would be easy for Welsh veteran indie rockers Stereophonics to stick to the same formula that produced classics such as ‘Dakota’, ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and ‘A Thousand Trees’, to name just a few. However, in a bold and innovative move, their latest album Scream Above The Sounds is a conscious effort to move away from familiarity and venture into a more diverse sound. Such a move must be commended at this stage in the band’s career, and the result is an album that proves that Stereophonics still have something in the tank.
‘All In One Night’ was picked as the first single off the album, presumably as a way to gently ease the ears of existing fans into the new sound. The use of electronic instrumentation, both through the introduction of a drum pad and synthesiser, creates an intriguing atmospheric layer that compliments the free verse construction and haunting vocals of the song effectively. Here, lead singer Kelly Jones demonstrates a tremendous grasp on the craft of songwriting, straying from the standard methods of pop construction yet still creating a catchy and free flowing melody; this becomes even more apparent when listening to the acoustic version of the track on the deluxe edition of the album.
Though lyrically generic and musically unabitious, the album opener features what Stereophonics do best
What the first single lacked in commercial viability (a characteristic vital to the success of the arena rock four piece), the albums second single ‘Caught by the Wind’ more than makes up for. Though lyrically generic and musically unambitious, the album opener features what Stereophonics do best; sing along choruses and baiting melodic hooks. This is shadowed in the following track, ‘Taken A Tumble’ which, despite boasting an ear-raising crunch guitar rhythm, doesn’t quite manage to salvage the lyrical shallowness of the chorus, where we find Jones exclaiming, “I’ve fallen / I’ve taken a tumble / I’m falling head over heels for you”.
The album becomes more experimental at the third track, ‘What’s All The Fuss About?’, with the layering of electronic synthesiser and solo trumpet creating an interesting mix that will no doubt prove to be immensely indulging in a live environment. Though this sound is new to Stereophonics, they are hardly breaking new ground; Jones’ falsetto and vocal melody has been ripped almost straight from a Muse song. Nonetheless, they continue to experiment with this sound throughout the record with some success.
The album misses that big crowd pleaser Stereophonics have proven themselves to be capable of
The stand out track on the album is undoubtedly ‘Before Anyone Knew Our Name’. The song – a heart wrenching tribute to recently deceased former drummer Stuart Cable – features Kelly Jones’ piercing vocals accompanied only by piano. It is music in its purest form; breath-taking talent and raw emotion.
Though this ambitious walk down a new avenue isn’t a failure, Stereophonics may have to consult their map to return to their full capability. Whilst the commercial arena rock melodies nicely juxtapose the more ambitious numbers, the album misses that big crowd pleaser Stereophonics have proven themselves to be capable of. Scream Above The Sounds is certainly a musically exciting album, and one that serves to remind us that the four piece aren’t done yet, however it falls just short of the mark of what had the potential to be a forceful addition to an extensively good repertoire.