Back in 1997 I was quite a fan of the Stereophonics. I still think highly of the first album's catchy tunes and insightful smalltown storytelling, but it didn't take long for them to mature into something that could often be rather boring.
Sure, over the course of the six albums since the debut, there have been occasional impressive moments, but they're the kind of group that seems to exist solely for the enjoyment of Absolute Radio listeners. Not that it's a bad station, they play some of the finest bands around. Problem is they don't seem to play anything those bands have made in recent times, and as for new artists, there's not much chance of hearing any of them.
But back to the Stereophonics, because I've had a few listens to their new 'Graffiti On The Train' LP. It sounded quite good at first, less coffee table rock, and slightly more raw and tortured. But Kelly Jones is hardly Ian Curtis or Richey Edwards. And after a couple more plays, the raw and tortured became miserable and grey. Perhaps it sounded good on a day when I had managed no sleep the night before, or maybe it just sounded better than some of their previous tracks that I'm not thrilled to be familiar with. It certainly takes on a darker tone throughout, maybe effected by the death of former drummer Stuart Cable, whose presence hangs over this record. They do seem to be stepping out of their MOR comfort zone a little bit, aiming for something with a bleaker and rather bruised feel to it.
It begins well with the excellent 'We Share The Same Sun', which resonates with a downbeat power, and comes with one of Jones's strongest melodies. The title track is another highlight, where the desolate mood is embellished by haunting strings, while 'Stuck In A Moment' may be the standout track, delivering a bleak but infectious chorus, and odd funk rhythms. Lyrically, it almost sounds like Jones looking for inspiration in his own fear of failure.
But like most of their albums, there's a few highlights surrounded by tiresome filler and potentially good songs that could have done with a bit more in the way of songwriting. None of it is particularly bad, except for limp bar room blues pastiche 'Cheating On Me'. At first, the bad tempered rock and roll of 'Catacomb' is the most dangerous they've sounded in years. But it ultimately tries to cover up its lack of substance with a load of loud guitars, in fact after a while you realise that there's not much of a song there.
'Roll The Dice' begins promisingly, hinting at Oasis and The Beatles with its epic bursts of brass and light psychedelic melody, but as it runs on it fails to hold the listener's attention. The brooding, Bond theme-like 'Violins And Tambourines' eventally arrives at a dramatic driving climax but takes too long to get there, while the latest single 'Indian Summer' is something that a lot of people will like. But even more people are going to hate it, due to its woefully cliched lyrics and dreary chorus that oddly hints at Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep'. The lyrics are often a bit of a problem across the record. After a couple of plays, much of 'Graffiti On The Train' reveals itself to be just another annoyingly inconsistent Stereophonics album.
I'm going to give it a 2.5 out of 5.