It may be cookie cutter modern rock, but this debut isn't without its quality moments. Too bad there aren't enough of them.
For all the current new music that the trendy crowd takes great pride in discovering from either online word of mouth or tastemaker websites, for all the indie hipsters in New York and Chicago, all the anglophiles in Toronto, and the thousands of music fans who descend on Austin, Texas, every March, nothing clicks with the majority of mainstream rock music fans who don't live in huge centers as well as simple, guitar-driven rock does. The unprecedented response to Pearl Jam's otherwise middling single "World Wide Suicide" that made the song the highest charting modern rock single in history is all the proof you need that, when it comes to the rock, the masses like it passionate, loud, and above all, predictable.
Not that there's anything wrong with it. Lowest common denominator arena rock has its place, but for every American Idiot, there are 10 Nickelback clones, an unending line of sensitive guys with facial hair waiting for their chance to mildly enthuse audiences with their bland, fourth-generation grunge. And one look at the photo of the young, soul patch wearin', Denton, Texas, band Faktion is enough to convince us that the weaker, self-conscious side of the post-grunge quagmire (Candlebox/Bush/Creed/Nickelback) will never, ever go away. Plus, the fact that the band's debut album was co- produced by former Creed bassist Brett Hestia and slickly mixed by the mainstream-friendly Chris Lord-Alge, and has been released by Roadrunner (Nickelback's American label), should be enough of an indication of what this quintet is going to be like.
But wait. The Sevendust-lite opening track "Forgive Me" kicks off with the usual mid-tempo alt-rock drumming and plain, churning chords of that tired post-grunge sound, but after a very underwhelming opening verse sung by a sullen Ryan Gibbs, he gives us a glimpse of his and his band's versatility in the chorus, shifting between robust shouts and more accessible, melodic singing. After that, the album kicks comfortably into gear, the single-worthy "Control" sounding much more upbeat, Gibbs delivering vocal hooks that are far more accomplished than anything Nickelback is capable of, and the song venturing in more of an Incubus direction, minus the pretentiousness. "Letting You Go" is shameless in its Hoobastankiness, but it's as good an arena rock power ballad as you'll hear all year, Gibbs doing the slow build-up from morose verse to soaring choruses as well as Sebastian Bach and Billie Joe Armstrong have done in the past. "Six O'Clock" packs more hooks, the twin guitars of Marshal Dutton and Josh Franklin delving deliciously into '80s hard rock (complete with a couple of great, bombastic solos), while "Distance" is the kind of overwrought acoustic weeper that drives the 14-year-old girls wild.
Midway through the CD, though, as is always the case with young one-trick ponies, repetitiveness kicks in, and the rest of the album doesn't so much as fall off the rails as coast toward a very unspectacular finish. The hooks disappear, the riffs get unimaginative ("Maybe" and "Answers" make for a painfully generic eight and a half minutes), and attempts at aggressive emocore stumble ("Always Wanting More"). "Pilot" does manage to match the album's much more effective first half, but nestled in between five other pedestrian songs, by then it's a lost cause.
Faktion's potential is definitely there. They have a very good singer in Gibbs, and show flashes of solid pop rock songwriting, but ultimately their debut gets lazy, falling prey to the traps that befall most other bands of their ilk, until they wind up sounding as faceless as the cover art. If they were unafraid to do something a little different (the retro rawk of "Six O'Clock" definitely stands out), then we might have something rather refreshing on our hands. The band has done a good job of cultivating a fanbase, but while mainstream success does seem possible, for the time being Faktion are merely a decent iPod band, with three or four downloadable gems, and a bit too much filler to warrant giving the entire record our attention.