It’s the most frustrating thing: a pop-rock outfit with that one-hit-wonder radio hit, you enjoying it and maybe even buying it, only to forget about them a few months later. Happens all the time. Is happening right now. Yet … they come back, with good songs. You soon find out that they’re not just a one-off band - they’ve released several albums and have a cult following. People may have even cried “sell out” at that singular hit. You begin to wonder, question, and think, “Maybe there’s more to this band than meets the eye”…
Such is the case with Blue October, a Texas-based rock outfit that has a violinist in the band (Ryan Delahoussaye) and, unlike Yellowcard, actually uses him to great cinematic effect. In 2004, they scored a one-off hit with “Calling You (For Mamie)”, a gem of a Top 40 rocker that hit every single possible cliché in the best way possible. As guilty a pleasure as it was, its parent album History for Sale hit every single possible cliché in the worst way possible. They hit, they fizzled, but they still had a loyal fan base that believed in their little-heard first album, 2000’s Consent to Treatment - a disc filled with more indie aspirations than chart-topping dominance. Flash-forward to 2006 and the release of Foiled, their latest attempt in renavigating the commercial landscape. Is it stacked end to end with radio-ready singles? No - but in a good way. This album pulls the rug from under you: it’s not a collection of songs, it’s an actual album.
It starts off, truth be told, rather blandly. “You Make Me Smile” and “She’s My Ride Home” sound like a less-interesting Collective Soul and Coldplay, respectively. It’s not until the shameless pop of “Into the Ocean”, with reverb guitars and bubbly synths, that things really kick into gear. Yet, for so happy a song, the lyrics are tinged with a hint of sadness. “I want to swim away but don’t know how / Sometimes it feels like / it feels just like I’m falling in the ocean.” Dour? A bit, but with purpose. The album suddenly detours into the sad and the melancholy, as a suite of songs pulls more from desperation and hard rock, creating a distinct center, and ultimately revealing this album as a tale of personal depression and sadness, not exactly a summer party disc.
“What If We Could” is a hard-rock tale of fantasy desperation, but pales in contrast to lead single “Hate Me”, here given six full minutes to breathe. The results read more like a tortured journal entry than a slick Modern Rock single:
In my sick way I want to thank you
For holding my head up late at night
Where I was busy waging wars on myself
You were trying to stop the fight
You never doubted my opinions
On things like suicidal hate
You made me compliment myself
When it was way too hard to take
So I drive so fuckin’ far away
So that I never cross your mind
And do whatever it takes in your heart
To leave me behind
The album’s lyrical tone, though never as bleak as this, doesn’t exactly turn towards optimism later on. It’s OK, though, when the band is feeling this musically adventurous. A duet with Frou Frou mouthpiece Imogen Heap (“Congratulations”)? Worth a shot! A dirty near-death-metal song about lust (“Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek”)? That kicks things up a bit too! While every detour isn’t a successful one (the New Order-styled dance pop of “X Amount of Words” finds a good groove but does nothing with it), props should still be handed out when ambition catapults over expectations and scores a gold medal.
This is not the greatest pop album ever released, and it would be hard to even say it’s the best thing of 2006. Yet few pop-rock bands can be congratulated for looking beyond the charts and creating a true piece of art. It’s digestible, disturbing, unexpected, and fun - your expectations have been Foiled.