It’s been well documented the band was on the skids when they halted their last tour and that band frontman Caleb Followhill had some serious issues dealing with the pressures of being the hottest act in rock n roll. Followhill was recently quoted in referencing 2010’s Come Around Sundown as saying ‘I checked out for that album.’ This was followed by one of the shortest hiatuses in present day music.
I want to get back to my original question though. There is a track on the new album entitled ‘Don’t Matter.’ It’s a garage rocker in the spirit of the first couple albums, but features a chorus of ‘It don’t matter to me/’cuz it’s always the same…’ They are simple words, but when you hear about a band in this day and age that had to take a hiatus because they were too f’d in the head with fame and needed to detox and canceled 26 dates on a U.S. tour, there could be a disdain that follows. Rolling Stone still fawns over them – championing them as underdogs on a comeback trail. Take for example one of the bands they look up to and have opened for — U2. Their Angel of Harlem tour and film were not critically well received at the time. Still, the boys from Dublin honored their commitments and at the end of their tour Bono was quoted on stage (I’m paraphrasing) ‘we need to go away for a while and re-think the whole thing up…’ By comparison, Caleb was quoted as saying ‘I need to go backstage and vomit and then I’ll come back out and play three more songs…’ and didn’t.
So given that backdrop – what do I think musically and socially of the new album, Mechanical Bull? Well…it walks and quacks like the duck. It opens with a track called ‘Supersoaker,’ and features that rave-up strum before the drums come marching in. The problem is that every time I start to listen to it, my mind wanders to something else. I never really feel I need to be in the same room when it’s playing. Sure, if forced to listen to it, I would tap my toe, but I’m just not that interested. ‘Rock City,’ is a bluesier affair with lead guitar from Matthew Followhill that, while tremendously commercial in nature, reminds of Mike Campbell of Heartbreakers fame.
The aforementioned ‘Don’t Matter,’ follows and, disregarding any social connotation its a ballsy garage rocker that does it’s job with pounding keys and rollicking dual guitars. An interesting footnote to ‘Beautiful War,’ is that Caleb Followhill wrote the track in the same session he wrote ‘Use Somebody.’ While not as viscerally poignant, it’s still a powerful arena-ready tune that fits well into the bands discography.
The best two tracks of the album follow with ‘Temple,’ intertwining the KOL blue jeans and right boot tapping against the jukebox sound with classic rock. At 2:44 in you’ll note the Thin Lizzy-like riff. My favorite line: ‘I got my hands in my pockets/and I’m crossing my fingers…’ The albums big statement is the middle cut, ‘Wait For Me.’ A Tom Petty-like middle eastern flavored guitar line peppers this slow burner.
The funky ‘Family Tree,’ follows and the guitars here reminisce with the Stones in my ears. ‘Comeback Story,’ sound useless to me…it sounds like something Band of Horses could’ve cooked up and tossed away as a b-side. ‘Tonight,’ is a one-trick pony for the band that seems to have been beaten into submission – especially when stronger tracks like ‘Beautiful War,’ and ‘Wait For Me,’ have already dotted the album. ‘Coming Back Again,’ is just boring. The guitars are stock and seem retreads of both the band’s entire catalog and everyone elses. How many ‘Oh-ooh-Oh-oooh–ahh’ songs do we need from Caleb Followhill?
‘On The Chin,’ closes the standard version of the album. It opens as a countrified acoustic ditty and is sprinkled with more electric guitar from Matthew Followhill while the rest of the band just sort of sits back.
The deluxe version version features two ‘bonus,’ cuts. ‘Work On Me,’ is reminiscent of Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac. ‘Last Mile Home,’ features a loping rhythm section and an interesting interplay between two dueling guitar tones, but lyrically it feels like a cop out. Both tracks are no better than b-side quality.
I’ve tried for over a week to like this album because the rest of the band’s discography is so strong. I loved seeing their transformation on Because Of The Times and the continued progression on the two subsequent albums but if the band were due for a dog, this one’s it…