Tuesday, 8 February 2011

OUR LADY PEACE - Burn Burn

our lady peace

I’ve followed Our Lady Peace’s career since the release of their major label debut, ‘Naveed’. As far as debuts go, that album was okay; it showed a band who were more than musically competent and they had a great vocalist in Raine Maida. There was room for improvement though... Aside from the Cult sounding ‘Starseed’ and the title track (which was one of the only tracks to feature Raine’s brilliant vocal quirks), the rest of the album was made up of solid but ultimately ordinary post-grunge rock tunes.

By the time of their second album, ‘Clumsy’, Our Lady Peace had progressed substantially. The album had similar post-grunge roots to their debut, but the band had expanded their sound, lightening up in places and bringing in traces of power pop and occasional pianos. Their songwriting approach was far more varied and Raine Maida had really learnt to use his voice in an interesting way, changing pitch erratically at times – although never purely for dramatic effect and never at the expense of the songs. The band took those elements that made their second album great and really worked on them over the next few years, resulting in two brilliant albums, ‘Happiness...Is Not a Fish You Can Catch’ and ‘Spiritual Machines’.

The band resorted to a more straight ahead stadium rock sound, harking back to parts of ‘Naveed’ for 2002’s ‘Gravity’ – possibly at the suggestion of heavyweight producer Bob Rock, best known for his work on Metallica’s multi-platinum selling Black Album. While not as interesting as the previous three albums, it was better than ‘Naveed’ thanks to the band being more confident and turning in some great songwriting. At this point, it seemed the band could do no wrong.
And then, after a three year recording hiatus, Our Lady Peace released ‘Healthy In Paranoid Times’ - an album which has nothing of any real worth within its 12 songs. On that album, the band sounds as if they’re going through the motions. Raine Maida slips even farther away from the quirky vocal traits he used on ‘Happiness...’ and ‘Spiritual Machines’ and this only serves to make the album feel even more laboured. The sleeve notes claim the band wrote and recorded 43 songs during the album’s sessions, so I can only but wonder how they came to choose 12 really dull ones for the end product.

In the five year gap between the release of ‘Paranoid Times’ and ‘Burn Burn’, vocalist Raine Maida embarked on a solo career; his solo album ‘The Hunter’s Lullaby’ adopted more of a stripped down singer-songwriter slant. After a five year band absence, I had major reservations about Our Lady Peace’s return. Since they took three years to deliver ‘Healthy In Paranoid Times’, were they about to disappoint a second time after so long away? Would Raine Maida’s solo activities have any impact on the band’s sound? I knew if the album turned out to be as forgettable as ‘...Paranoid Times’ it would be time for me to part company with a band I’d followed for a decade and a half.

With a lot riding on it, ‘Burn Burn’ made an immediate impact with me. For a majority of the album, Our Lady Peace opt for a mid-paced rock sound; one that rocks stadiums and fills airwaves. Raine Maida steers away from his old style quirkier vocals again, but here, it doesn’t matter so much as it did before, since the songs themselves are incredibly strong. The simplicity running through ‘Burn Burn’s ten songs gives the album a solid backbone and with that, Our Lady Peace play to their strengths.

‘All You Did Was Save My Life’ begins the album with one of the more upbeat numbers. Driven by Steve Mazur’s choppy guitars, it’s a track which is unmistakably Our Lady Peace. I may still wish on occasion that Maida would revert to his old vocal style, but it cannot be denied that even with this more conventional approach, his voice is still a strong one, even if not as distinctive as it once had been. This track is also notable for having been co-written with Zac Maloy (one-time frontman with post-grunge band The Nixons – possibly one of the most under-rated bands ever).

The big chorus and ringing guitars during ‘The End Is Where We Begin’ call to mind a couple of the songs from ‘Gravity’; here each band member plays a key role – the rhythm section of Duncan Coutts and Jeremy Taggart drive the song with a gentle chug on the verses, but it’s the chorus where things shift up a gear. The song hangs on a giant chorus and if you need a timely reminder of why Our Lady Peace are great, this is it. Also adopting a stadium rock approach, ‘Dreamland’ is a high point. Another mid paced affair, it features a tack piano on the verses before resorting to a more predictable heavy guitar riff for the big chorus. It’s typical of the kind of thing 30 Seconds To Mars wish they could have written, but just don’t have enough chops.

‘Monkey Brains’ is another up tempo track; I’d say it’s not quite as memorable as most of the album but still has some great moments: Duncan Coutts’s bass work is aggressive and upfront during the closing section, but for me, it’s the acoustic mid-section which is the song’s best feature. It has a quality which will seem instantly familiar to anyone who’s followed the band for some time. There’s a moment I could swear Maida is about to break into ‘Superman’s Dead’; it’s great to know that despite the band having become more commercial over their previous couple of releases, this album brings out just a little of the Our Lady Peace of old. The falsetto vocal parts may be a past luxury, but maybe the world’s still a subway after all.

‘Escape Artist’ is a pop/rock track driven by a bass drum and tambourine rhythm during its verses, which is played against a subtle guitar part. The song’s hook isn’t anywhere near as big as some on the album, but the track still features some great elements – namely wah-wah guitar and understated piano work. Although not especially obvious in the overall mix, it’s great to hear the piano playing a role, since it was the piano part on the title track from the ‘Clumsy’ album which caught my ear and really pushed Our Lady Peace up in my estimation, back in 1997.
The piano comes to the fore for the brooding ballad ‘Never Get Over You’, a track with a very 21st Century “alternative” sound – and obviously, by that, I mean it fits in with the post millennium trend of labelling anything vaguely guitar driven as “alternative”. This is probably going to sound like a put-down, but the song’s slightly plodding nature reminds me a little of Snow Patrol, if they were slightly tougher and could write more interesting songs. Even so, if this track represents ‘Burn Burn’ at its weakest, it’s obvious that with this album Our Lady Peace are on a winning streak.

‘Paper Moon’ finds the band rocking out a bit more, but it’s still in the mid-paced mould of a lot of the songs on ‘Burn Burn’. It’s notable, since it’s one of the tracks which utilises backing vocals most obviously; they add weight to the chorus by mirroring the lead vocal, but can also be found bubbling under a blistering lead guitar courtesy of Steve Mazur. Since it’s probably Mazur’s most aggressive work on the album, you could be forgiven for not taking much notice of whatever else happens to be going on!

There are no dud songs here. Those who liked the more straight ahead approach of ‘Gravity’ (in particular, those listeners whom became fans with the release of that album) will find ‘Burn Burn’ enjoyable. It’s restored my faith in the band and while it’s not as inventive as some of the band’s earlier works, it’s certainly a very welcome addition to the Our Lady Peace catalogue.


June 2010

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