Thursday, 8 May 2014

Stone Gods "Silver Spoons & Broken Bones" Review

Well, now we enter the years where The Darkness were no more. As much as a lot of people probably would like to think that the members didn't do a thing between the break up of The Darkness and their reunion, the truth is that, after Justin Hawkins left the band, they simply moved bassist Richie Edwards up to lead vocals and rhythm guitar, found a new bassist in the form of Toby MacFarlaine (now of a band named O.W.L.S.) and changed their name to Stone Gods. However, the band didn't continue with the sound of The Darkness, instead opting to remove the glam aspect of The Darkness' sound and finding a different sound that was darker and more aggressive than what the band had ever done with The Darkness. They released their debut album in July 2008, Silver Spoons & Broken Bones, which reached a relatively modest (but rather poor when you consider how high the last two albums by The Darkness charted) number 67 in the UK albums chart, but gathered a HUGE amount of critical praise.

But does the album deserve all of that praise and did it deserve to get higher up the charts than it did? Well...yes and no. It's undeniable that the album is a very solid listening experience and it's hard to deny that the songs are very solid, but the fun factor of The Darkness was one of the things that made them so distinctive and, without that to distract you when things get rough, the flaws of this album become harder to ignore.

Let's start with the cover art. I cannot help suspecting that Stone Gods are fans of Metallica, as the basic idea for the cover art is VERY similar to that of Metallica's self-titled album.

I can't be the only person who thinks of Metallica's self-titled album here, can I? Anyway, it's definitely not a bad cover art in its own right (I'd even go so far as to say that it's actually pretty good), but it feels a bit too minimalistic for my taste, in all honesty. I'll admit that it's clever how they managed to reference the album title with the skeletons in the bottom left corner, but it still doesn't stop me from being slightly disappointed that there wasn't more to it.

Anyway, the band provide a pretty surprising amount of variety across the album: you've got your ballads, your fast numbers and your rocking stuff. The problem is that the band also seem to have lost some of the catchiness that made The Darkness so easy to enjoy (or loath, if you weren't fond of them). This isn't an album which is especially memorable on the first listen, which isn't helped by more than a few moments of plagiarism that anyone with a decent knowledge of metal and hard rock music will pick up upon very quickly and get annoyed about. It does get better with repeated listens, though, but that's not the only issue I have with the songwriting. One of them is plagiarism. One moment in particular that stands out is in "Defend Or Die", which takes the famous opening riff of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil" and, without any changes to it, cheekily slots it into the song. While they don't do it a huge amount, it's enough to have me going "Oy, you pinched that, you cheeky buggers!" Another annoying habit is the band's fondness for adding weird sections of songs that would qualify on TV Tropes as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment, with the most bizarre being the faintly holiday sounding acoustic section in "Don't Drink The Water" that comes out of nowhere, lasts for about ten seconds, adds absolutely nothing to the song and doesn't make another appearance during the rest of the album. Clearly, the band knows how to come up with cool things they'd like to put in songs, but they don't stop to consider whether it's a moment that would have made a good song in its own right and just throw it in without any consideration of how it actually affects the song, as the last fifteen or so seconds of "Burn The Witch" sounds like the band are leading into a thrash influenced section that goes absolutely nowhere. Luckily, they don't go to the extent that their material reaches the length where you'd think they borrowed a song from Dream Theater, but it's certainly frustrating to keep hearing moments that would have either made for brilliant songs in their own right had the band opted to use it to make a full song or to hear stuff from already brilliant songs being slipped into the song with all the subtlety of using a bazooka to open a door. This is where I again have to bring up The Darkness: one of their strengths was that they never had those moments. Everything in their songs felt like it deserved to be there, was perfectly placed and managed to avoid sounding like they were plagiarising from other bands (although "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" definitely was one of the most noticeable exceptions to that comment). This, by comparison, feels a bit messy, as if the band haven't quite picked up on the fact that you're meant to trim the useless moments out of songs to make them stronger. This isn't a huge issue in the long run and the band do pull this all off so well that it's not enough to break the album by any measure, but it will leave those of you used to The Darkness' more restrained songwriting style quoting Slappy Squirrel and going "That was pointless" to at least a few sections of a few songs.

I'd also say the band suffers a little bit from my complaint on One Way Ticket in that they don't really try to find their own unique sound on this album. Now, this isn't a bad thing in and of itself, as I said last time, but I'd like to have heard the band put together something a tiny bit more original.

The lyrics have made a rather noticeable improvement across the board, although there are still a few moments that will leave you scratching your head and wondering whether the band had thought about what they'd written properly. They don't get to the depths that "Bald" did by any measure, though, which is always a plus in my book!

The production is also noticeably more retrained compared The Darkness' first two albums. That doesn't mean it's completely flawless, as it's still arguably a bit on the loud side at points, but it's not fairly good. The bass, alas, is still a bit on the quiet side, but, thanks to my bass enhancing headphones, I can attest that there's not a lot that is being missed anyway, so I'll not bang the drum about bassist hazing here.

I will say that Richie Edwards is a pretty different vocalist from Justin Hawkins: he has a voice that will bring to mind Bon Scott and Brian Johnson instead of Hawkins' rather high tenor, which is probably why the band didn't opt to continue under The Darkness name, thinking about it with my comments from the last two reviews in mind. However, he can mix his voice up enough that he doesn't always sound like he's doing an AC/DC audition. Probably the most surprising example of this is in "Magdalen Street" and "Lazy Bones", where he puts on a very soft tone to his voice that fits the song wonderfully. That's a sign of a brilliant vocalist, if you ask me: you can be distinctive, but you can also make your voice suit music that your voice isn't naturally suited for at the same time. While I wouldn't say Edwards is quite the best example of this kind of vocalist (he's no Mike Patton in that regard, if you get my point), he's still a very solid vocalist and I'm honestly slightly disappointed that this seems to be the only album he's done lead vocals on, as I'd love to hear him do more stuff!

So, final thoughts? This is definitely a step up from The Darkness' last album in a lot of departments, but it falls apart in the most important one, the songwriting aspect. It's still a very enjoyable album, but I cannot help finding myself thinking, without Justin Hawkins' more restrained songwriting to trim the unnecessary moments out of the songs, the band were flailing around a bit when writing this album. If all of the fat had been cut from this album, I dare say that this would have been an album that would have been an essential listen and could have been a potential game changer in terms of modern hard rock, but, as it stands, it's just a good album that is frustrating at how much better it could have been!

Final Rating: 6 Out Of 10

A very enjoyable album that, unfortunately, needed more than a bit of trimming in most of the songs to really be a brilliant album. If you didn't like The Darkness at all, this is probably going to be more your cup of tea, but the frustrating songwriting will probably have you wondering why you bothered with it. If you like hard rock in general, this is probably worth at least a listen and you'll probably highly enjoy it, but there's nothing new here and you'll probably find the songwriting lets it down more than anything else. If you're a fan of The Darkness, you might find this takes a bit of time to win you over, but, once you get used to not expecting Justin's voice, you'll probably find this fairly enjoyable.

Personal Favourite Tracks: "Burn The Witch", "Don't Drink The Water", "You Brought A Knife To A Gunfight", "Start Of Something"

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