It’s hard being Our Lady Peace. People tend to clump the Canadian quartet with the mainstream trash that continues to linger around, regardless of the criticism and whining everywhere. Thanks to the band’s radio hit “Somewhere Out There”, off of 2002’s Gravity, people tend to remember them for sharing radio time with the likes of Nickelback, Saliva, and Puddle of Mudd. While the single put them back in the headlines (unfortunately their 2001 effort and inarguably their best record to date, Spiritual Machines, was a commercial flop), it left a hole in the band’s fanbase. Those who followed the boys from the beginning with “The Birdman” and “Starseed” felt they swayed from their original sound. They weren’t wrong, really. In many ways, Gravity marked a bold departure from the Our Lady Peace everyone came to support. Original lead guitarist Mike Turner left, vocalist Raine Maida went easy on his trademark falsetto, and the songs took a more traditional poppy turn. These new elements burned many fans, and, in a sense, the band, too. Their follow up, 2005’s Happy in Paranoid Times, saw weak success and little to no acclaim, thus resulting in a four-year hiatus.
Maida returns this year with Burn Burn, the band’s seventh studio album, and for the first time in their 17-year history, they’re without a producer — well, a hired one, anyhow. Instead, they threw Maida behind the soundboards and kept things old school. Losing producer Bob Rock makes for an interesting story, but doesn’t necessarily explain the end product. Sometime last year, Maida rattled off to Karen Bliss of Canadian’s Jam! that Burn Burn was the, “closest record to Naveed.” While not true in the slightest, he did make an effort.
“Monkey Brains” marches along with an authority the band hasn’t seen since 2001. Drummer Jeremy Taggart slides some fills every once and awhile, working off of Duncan Coutts’ thick, clumpy basslines, and guitarist Steve Mazur manages to pull of some shredding, too. About two minutes into it, Maida chimes in with the acoustic and softly sings, “Generations trying to find a home/A thousand miles away from what they know,” and all of a sudden it’s 1997 again. That falsetto peaks its head in, as well, when he squeals, “They’re coming after you.” It’s interesting to note the pluralization of generation, as it’s fitting. Much like their contemporaries (Green Day comes to mind), they’re speaking to a slew of fans today, new, old, and returning.
That might explain some of the more contemporary influences. “Never Get Over You” borrows heavily from Snow Patrol or Keane, and “Refuge” sounds stripped from The Killers’ Sam’s Town. They’re not horrible songs by any means, but they’re not exactly the band’s forte, either.
Needless to say, their sound does surface again. Album closer “Paper Moon” hits all the right spots. Maida lets loose over Mazur’s splintered guitar work, singing effortlessly about the trials and consequences of growing old amongst the seas of youth, concluding that “They just don’t know anything at all.” Melancholy, sure, but that’s the band fans want and remember.
Though only so often do they really get that. Sure, there are subtle glimpses in “Dreamland”, but instead of biting back, the band opts to hug. The verses jog like any former song, but the choruses are just so damn anthemic that it all feels sort-of contrived. When Maida sings, “In this dreamland, the kids are alright/And the sky is blue,” you can hear him yearn to reach higher, to let loose that scowl, but it just stays grounded. It’s catchy, but so are most of the tracks here. The album’s opener and current single “All You Did Was Save My Life” delivers hook after hook, but by the end of the day, it could have easily been a Matchbox 20 song. The same goes for upcoming single, “The End Is Where We Begin”, that doesn’t even sound like Our Lady Peace, save for Maida’s occasional swing to his notes.
It’s in that sense where Burn Burn fails. This is a band torn between two worlds. It was foolish for Maida to ever claim any album nowadays would sound close to Naveed. For one, Mazur will never be another Turner. He’s too clean, too polished, and too focused. Turner at least meandered some and embraced the crackly crunch that made songs “Clumsy” and “Right Behind You (Mafia)” so memorable and, well, different. And then there’s Maida himself. If he’s going to ever scale back, he needs to be himself again. He needs to shake that jaw of his, he needs to experiment some. Spiritual Machines didn’t open the cash registers, but it sure kicked around the mind some. Open the books once more, fellas. Until then, you’re just writing staples — catchy, but nevertheless, staple. You’re better than that.
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