The Bravery - Stir the Blood
Record Label: Island Def Jam
Release Date: December 1, 2009
The Bravery will probably always be linked in my mind with The Killers, due to the (staged?) feud between the two bands following the release of The Bravery's 2005 self-titled debut. It seemed The Killers' Brandon Flowers took umbrage to their labelmates copping their style, as if his band's own debut Hot Fuss were something utterly groundbreaking. The animosity has long since blown over, but with the release of The Bravery's third album Stir the Blood, I wonder what Flowers thinks of his rivals now. I do know this: if I were he, after hearing this frustrating mess of a record, I'd be embarrassed for ever having felt threatened by this band.
Now, I'm not going to get all Pitchfork-y about how unoriginal this album is. I'd be the first to give it a pass in this department, were it executed well. Simply put, there isn't very much to enjoy about Stir the Blood. As oft-criticized as their first two efforts were, they both definitely had their moments. Their debut's "An Honest Mistake" was a surefire dancefloor pleaser, and even an unremarkable number like "Public Service Announcement" proved how far you could go on a simple hook ("stop, drop and roll") and some synth squiggles. And despite some cheesy moments, like the pseudo-uplifting "This Is Not the End", The Sun and the Moon boasted tracks like "Bad Sun", which I felt at the time was destined for commercial use (perhaps due to its contemporaneity with the similarly bouncy "Young Folks") and the dramatically hooky "Fistful of Sand", as well as the hit singles "Time Won't Let Me Go" and "Believe". So I went into Stir the Blood expecting to like a lot of it, but alas, I was let down in a big way.
Evidence of the ensuing disappointment pops up early on, since as an embodiment of the album's flaws, its leadoff track "Adored" is essentially Stir the Blood in microcosm. Its pep and New Wave production sheen signals a return to the sound of The Bravery, following their more organic sophomore release, but the guitar and synth lines are too repetitive and bland to draw you in. In addition, frontman Sam Endicott, who has never been a great vocalist (but whose previous work could be generously tagged as endearingly quirky), ruins what could be a catchy chorus with constipated yelping. These types of blemishes stain almost all of the album's tracks, like the New Wave dance number "Song for Jacob", which finds Endicott's insistent (and in this instance, likable) delivery completely overshadowed by monotonous, circular trance effects.
The first single "Slow Poison", while generally lackluster, was nonetheless probably the best choice for a single, as it's one of the few tunes that doesn't have at least some aspect that's jarringly unpleasant to listen to. It seems this band is now at their most enjoyable (or maybe merely tolerable) when they practice restraint. Case in point, following the obnoxious "Hatefuck", "I Am Your Skin" finds The Bravery much more successful when stripped of the garish glitch-glam veneer, and the trend continues with the simple retro ballad "She's So Bendable". When "The Spectator" limps out of the gate, it induces mixed feelings. It's another enjoyable slow post-punk tune, but with the album's pace slowed down to a veritable crawl, it makes one wonder what happened to The Bravery that burst into the mainstream consciousness with undeniably danceworthy numbers.
The tempo picks up with "I Have Seen the Future", but seemingly in an attempt to be a reflection of its title, the song is replete with an haphazard array of bleeps, boops and whooshes. The same slapdash layering of sound appears on "Red Hands and White Knuckles", which practically screams for you to get up and dance but fails to compel you to. In a disastrous sequencing decision, these two are followed by the insufferable "Jack-o'-Lantern Man", which takes the agitating whirs, whizzes and jingles to a whole new level (not to mention that hideously misplaced guitar solo) and is topped off by a hiccupped vocal performance by Endicott that's almost laughably (were it not so painful) self-parodying (The Sun and the Moon song title "Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear" is a pretty apt description). With the album so rife with inexplicable moments, The Bravery's decision to close out the album with the dreadfully dour-- and unintentionally humorous ("Oh sugar pill, I wanna eat you up")-- "Sugar Pill" shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
Whether you're approaching Stir the Blood with the analytical rigor of a stuffy rock critic or simply with a casual fan's expectation that a pop-friendly band deliver a few well-crafted hooks, you'll find that it falls well short of even the modest standard The Bravery have set for themselves with their previous work. Despite a scant few moments that prevent it from being a complete fail, this album is, ultimately, probably not worth your time.
Honestly, no-one gets this album. The world needed a perfect cross between Pretty Hate Machine and Hot Fuss, and it got it.
Despite the critical panning, every single person I've played this album for has loved it. I've found that it asks for repeated listens in my crowded catalogue of the dozens of new albums I listen to monthly.
And Yellowcard2006, with an icon promoting The Wonder Years, I wouldn't expect you to understand how brilliant of a song that is.