The Stereophonics had basically two waves of popularity in North America, the first being with 1999’s Performance & Cocktails, an album that was pop rock to an art form. But after seeing the band six times in Toronto alone within a span of one year, you knew the band would either combust or have a much needed break. 2001’s Just Enough Education to Perform was tamer and more melodic. Now, however, the band is again combusting. Kelly Jones reportedly sacked drummer Stuart Cable, while Cable insists he still wants to be a part of the band. So, is this the band’s last album? Is this a good way to go out, if it is? Well, yes and no. But if the replacement drummer, former Black Crowe Steve Gorman, is an indication of where the band is headed, look out Chris and Rich Robinson!
The moody, murky blues rock of “Help Me (She’s Out of Her Mind)” is full of Crowes-like riffs and Southern soul. It’s like the Crowes’ Amorica and Lions in some respects. Jones’ voice comes off a bit like Rod Stewart after a night on the town, but the groove is hard to dislike. “Help me, help, she’s out of her mind”, Jones sings for this fine opener before toning it down during the homestretch. If there’s one problem, the fact it’s nearly seven minutes leaves the ragged edges just a bit too jagged. “Maybe Tomorrow” is English soul and is rather bland, at best. The tune is similar to Canadian Motown artist Remy Shand, a polished attempt at seventies soul. It’s not that bad, but the cheesy keyboards and guitar arrangements leave something to be desired.
“Madame Helga”, the album’s first single, is rollicking rock that instantly brings Lenny Kravitz to mind minus the over-the-top chorus. It’s definitely radio-friendly, but the guitar sounds just a bit dated overall. Nonetheless, it’s one of the early highlights here, even danceable by some standards despite the wall of sound ending. “You Stole My Money Honey” returns to the melodic pop narratives Jones and company perfected on Performance & Cocktails, although it possesses a certain alt.country twang. John Lennon can also be heard in Jones’ vocals, especially when he strains the vocals on some lines. “Getaway” has a Smashing Pumpkins acoustic tone, but Jones’ “do do dos” over the piano makes it more than workable. Whispered lyrics that sound a bit synthesized or overdubbed, Jones thankfully isn’t Cher, but the verses don’t build well into the chorus.
“Climbing the Wall” is an ambling country tune that has the band sounding as if they’re on the front porch with blades of grass between their collective teeth. The horns and string section is a bit too much, but thankfully it’s used rather sparingly. “I’m standing here looking at myself again / I’m going blind”, Jones sings before giving the next line a double entendre. The southern guitar solo is a surprising highlight as it meshes against the strings for a Beatle-esque effect. “Jealousy” is tinged with gospel leanings and with that distinct Robinson riff that the Black Crowes used to push the envelope. It’s great ear candy!
“I’m Alright (You Gotta Go There to Come Back)” is a moody and slow track that goes nowhere fast, making it come off as filler more than anything else. The piano-driven “Nothing Precious At All” isn’t that different from the last song, but the harmonies and Rolling Stones-like twang is the effort’s selling point. “Rainbows and Pots of Gold” is a letter to an old flame and could be taken as a double meaning, either honest or soaked in sarcasm. “Do you remember all our stupid dreams?” Jones sings as he recounts the past. “High as the Ceiling” is another southern soulful groove rocker on which Jones excels from the outset. The closing “Since I Told You It’s Over” is a fine conclusion to the song, but it also might be an ominous title given the band’s current status. Regardless, You Gotta Go There to Come Back a very good album.
// Notes from the Road
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