When they're good, they're actually okay. It's when they're not good that the problems start.
Say what you will about Godsmack, but for eight years now they've been one of the most consistently successful bands to come out of the late '90s alt-metal eras, having sold more than nine million albums in the US. An incredible statistic, considering the Boston band has shown little musical growth over that time. They've continually -- and brazenly -- ripped-off the hard-edged grunge / metal hybrid of Alice in Chains, with little of the flair that Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell showed on such landmark albums as Facelift and Dirt. If the past decade has proven anything, it's that the music of grunge progenitors like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden continues to have a large influence on mainstream hard rock. However, what was once considered a groundbreaking alternative to the more superficial sound of '80s pop-metal has now been driven into the ground by the Nickelbacks, the Creeds, and yes, the Godsmacks of the world, to the point where it's been co-opted by hordes of classic rock fans who want nothing but the same thing over and over again. Those bands are smart: they give their fans nothing but the same old stuff, and are rewarded with strong record sales in an age when mainstream rock is on the decline.
For all Godsmack's earnestness they tend to struggle with inconsistency, despite a handful of admittedly strong singles. This trend continues on the aptly titled IV, where -- typically -- the quartet shows periodic signs of life, only to become mired by album's end in the muck of turgid, bland post-grunge cliché. For what it's worth, the best moments execute the formula effectively. The album gets off to an impressively strong start: "Livin in Sin" does the quiet-loud-quiet-loud shtick well, the song exploding into a riff reminiscent of Soundgarden's Louder Than Love incarnation. "The Enemy" is an energetic burst of vitriol, as the leather-lunged Sully Erna, the most famous right-wing Wiccan in America, sells his hostile yet endearingly hokey lyrics. "No Rest For the Wicked" is bolstered by guitarist Robbie Merrill's use of a talk box, and "Shine Down" is constructed around Merrill's blues-infused, Zeppelin-lite riff. It's the single "Speak" that best features everything coming together, with Erna in full Staley mode (let's face it, he's brilliant at it), Merrill hammering away a downtuned chord sequence, and drummer Shannon Larkin -- the band's one great asset -- providing a multi-faceted rhythmic foundation. It's their best song since their 2000 single "Awake".
Before long, however, all that hard work goes to hell, the music sounding uninspired, Erna's lyrics drenched in melodramatic self-loathing. "Hollow" takes a cue from the acoustic The Other Side EP, but Erna's moping becomes a distraction ("Time always seems to be passing by, / It never waits for me"). Merrill's slide guitar can't save "Bleeding Me" from becoming a self-parody, and both "Mama" and "One Rainy Day" bring the album to a painfully downbeat conclusion. "Voodoo Too", an updated version of the band's breakthrough 1998 single, is mildly interesting, but only the furious "Temptation", on which Larkin is allowed to let loose with his manic percussion skill, shows the band coming out of its second-half coma.
With the exception of Larkin, who is rarely allowed to showcase his skill (he's one of the most dynamic drummers in rock today), Godsmack is painfully limited in creativity, resorting to simple riffs, redundant melodies, and the kind of dour lyrical themes that were old six years ago. That's never stopped other similar bands from putting out consistently entertaining music, and Erna's boys do nail it from time to time, but too often IV opts for maudlin sentiment disguised as profound music instead of playing to the band's strengths. The fans might like it (it did debut at number one), but Godsmack needs to refrain from getting by on so little, and stick to doing what it does best, lest the general public catch on to just how inconsistent the product is.