Fuel provides the perfect bridge between the commercial leanings of most modern rock acts and the bruising intensity of old school metal bands. As a result, the band's third album, Natural Selection, makes for nothing but an interesting listen.
The Pennsylvania quartet hit the big time in 1998 with their debut album, Sunburn, and the band's music has stayed relatively consistent since then. The music alternates between radio-friendly rock, like the first single "Falls on Me", and the darker, more aggressive-sounding tracks like opener "Quarter".
Some might say that Fuel's blatantly commercial songs contrast too vividly with the heavier material, while others would say it gives fans the best of both worlds. Whatever the argument, the disparity of styles can be seen once again with dirge-like tracks such as "These Things" and the almost pop-rock of "Most of All", which sound like they come from two different bands. The anthemic "Down Inside of You" is a classic Fuel song, with a typically bruising riff and powerful vocal delivery and a highly melodic chorus line, while more thudding intensity can be heard on "Won't Back Down".
Producer Michael Beinhorn delivers a competently crisp feel to the proceedings, while Andy Wallace's mix brings a punchy edge to the songs, and the sound and material on offer add up to a formula that vocalist Bret Scallions and his bandmates stick to without fail.
While tracks like "Running Away" have little or no identity or appeal, and "Die Like This" is full of every hoary old metal cliché known to man, songs like "Luck" have something different about them and a more contemporary edge. The songs may seem slightly homogonous after a while, but in today's modern rock climate, where bands like Nickelback have adopted similar strategies, Fuel's tactics seem dead-on. The radio singles keep the corporate suits happy while fans of thudding, intense tracks like "Getting Thru?" are catered to as well.
The contrasting styles of Fuel's sound are neatly encapsulated on the back cover photograph, showing one group member in a Motorhead shirt with his cohorts looking like they could form part of Bon Jovi, Pantera, and Limp Bizkit respectively. Certainly, the fact that Fuel still sell records and have a deal in an era of cutbacks and artist purges at major labels shows they must be doing something right, even if what they are doing seems a little too obvious.