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Shinedown Leave a Whisper

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Sunday, August 24, 2003 @ 0:49 AM


(Atlantic)

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Alright folks -- brace yourselves. At any moment monkeys will take flight from your collective asses and a snowball fight will break out in Hell. What could possibly cause such impossibilities? I’m about to give a * Good * Review of a mainstream rock band. Have no fear -- the world is not ending. These things happen from time to time. Once in a while, amidst the bullshit, half-assed, money hungry, no talent clone bands sucking their way to the top of the charts, there comes a band able to transcend that stereotype and bring some quality music to the masses. I recently discovered that Shinedown is one of those bands.

First, it’s important to reiterate -- this IS a mainstream rock band. The style is commercially palatable, meter and time signatures are standard, there is only one solo on the whole album, and the music itself is far from technical or diverse. Most of the time, these characteristics tend to be defining reasons that I avoid such music. But then again, it works for AC/DC, so I’m left to think that every once in a while such things can be used to an advantage. It’s not completely unheard of that a commercial band, prone to radio airplay and mainstream familiarity, can produce a quality sound. A few years ago a band called Dust For Life pulled it off quite nicely; Days Of The New had something going on their first album; Alice In Chains rose to God-like status with their sound. No, I am NOT comparing the music of Shinedown to that of AIC -- that would be sacrilege. The point is that, knee-deep in the shitstorm known as the Grunge Scene, AIC was able to transcend and separate themselves while still bearing the label. Same goes for Shinedown --surrounded on all sides by whiny, self-loathing, self-pitying, “woe-is-me with my swelling bank accounts, mommy didn’t love me” bullshit that pervades the industry today, Shinedown have risen among yet above all that. Smart lyrics and a seriously impressive singer in the form of one Brent Smith put this band a step or two above the rest of the redundant headcases.

From that I should emphasize how absolutely vital Brent Smith is to this band. It’s his powerful and emotive voice that carries this band. The music by itself would be lost in a whirlpool of “been there, done that” redundancy with power chords, simple acoustics, standard drumming and basic bass lines that are a staple in the commercial scene today. But add to that the belting and forceful yet equally melodic and moving vocals, and you find yourself grooving quite nicely with the guys in Shinedown. As it is, I don’t mind the simplicity of the music -- it serves as a mere backdrop to provide the rhythms for the real instrument in this band -- the singer. Something of a cross between Chris Cornell and Travis Meeks with his own distinctively hard edge, this is a voice meant for rock.

As for the individual songs, they’re best addressed individually:

1.) “Fly From The Inside”- I believe this is their first single. Sets a solid tone for the album-has the basic heavy power chord intro to a slow pace for the verse, then a mid tempo drive for the chorus. Unlike the usual self pitying cry baby antics you get from bands like Staind content to wallow in their “misery”, the song implies taking control and facing adversity. “I am focused on what I am after-the key to the next open chapter. ‘Cause I found a way to steal the sun from the sky; Long live that day that I decided to fly from the inside.”

2.) “Left Out” – Even heavier than the first song, more simplicity but nice and hard. A tight song dealing with spousal abuse and empathizing with the woman’s plight: “So how does it feel to be the one who’s always in the way, to be the one who always gets the blame, to be the one who’s left out in the rain. I know that you need to get even, I know that you’re staring at the edge.”

3.) “Lost In The Crowd” – Best fucking song on the disc. Beautiful tune-slow, drifting clean electric guitar lines carry into the chorus with a still slow but distorted guitar to add feel, then back again. Even has a nice little solo climax to add depth. The vocals are just chilling-incredible feel and emotion with haunting background vocals for effect. “Should I offer up my hands, and say a wish for once, for all of us? And should I offer up my hands and lay the guilt on myself, so it’s easier to not stay? I found you in your corner, I pulled you out of the clouds. You left in such a hurry, your face is lost in the crowd”. This song is bound to leave you with goose bumps and hitting repeat on the CD player several times.

4.) “No More Love” – Nice dynamic in this song-starts out mellow, builds to a great crunchy, thumping riff and some well-belted vocals in the chorus, then settles into a nice acoustic bridge with some moving vocals. “Despite the writing on the wall, my future’s bleak and rather small. That’s all you could ever take from me, I’ve got nothing to lose so let me be-There’s no more love, there’s no more love for me and you.”

5.) “Better Version” – I had a hard time with this one initially. The first few listens had me writing it off as, well, shit. However, if you can get past the rather weak guitar riffs and cheesy approach in the chorus, it’s decent. The lyrics certainly stand up well, if nothing else. “I am not perfect, and I don’t claim to be, and if that’s what you wanted, well then I’m so sorry. How about a better version of me?”

6.) “Burning Bright” – Next best song on the disc. This stands right up there with “Lost In The Crowd.” Very mellow (this seems to be where they excel the most), nice acoustics and more chilling vocal deliveries with a powerful chorus. And again, some solid and insightful lyrics. “The more the light shines through me, I pretend to close my eyes. The more the dark consumes me, I pretend I’m burning bright.”

7.) “In Memory” – Another solid song-most bands peter out by this point in an album, but these guys forge ahead with more solid song work. As has become the standard thus far on the CD, the lyrics are moving and inspired. More of the same formula with the mellow verse and clean guitar to distorted, mid-tempo chorus. “I can’t wait for you to catch up with me, I can’t live in the past and drown myself in memories.”

8.) “All I Ever Wanted” – The great harmony is definitely the dominating factor on this song - “I believe I’m losing my nerve, but could I ever do better than this? All I’ve ever wanted was a place to call my home, to shelter me when I am there and to miss me when I’m gone.”

9.) “Stranger Inside” – A fair song, has a cool walking style guitar riff, then the usual slow, clean picking for the verse and back. Not too bad a song, but one of the less memorable of the album. “Have you ever felt lost inside, so unloved within that you almost died? Have you ever stepped out of the light and realized there’s a stranger inside?”

10.) “Lacerated” – Well, almost every band does it. There’s some unwritten rule that most bands adhere to that requires them to write at least one shitty song per album. This would be it. This is where the mainstream mindedness (or mindlessness) really comes through. Everything from the lame bass riff to the monotonous drums to the whiny way he sings, “Sheeeee laceraaaateeeeeeed meeeeee”- this is just a bad, bad song.

11.) “Crying Out” – While an improvement over the last song, this is somewhat subpar for the rest of the album. This and the previous two songs don’t add up to the quality put forth on the other songs, and I think their inclusion detracts from the strength of the album as a whole.

12.) “45” – Another song I didn’t think I’d like at first. The subject of suicide is SO overdone these days, I’m sick of everyone whining about how tough things are and wanting to end it all. Suicide is for pussies, everybody suffers -- we all deal with it, it’s called LIFE. But this song is actually quite beautiful and the lyrics are sympathetic to the suffering. The more you hear it, the better it gets -- and again, the vocals and smart lyrics really move you and instill a sense of empathy. “Whatever happened to the young man’s heart? Swallowed by pain as he slowly fell apart. And I’m staring down the barrel of a .45, swimming through the ashes of another life, no real reason to accept the way things have changed.”

This album won’t revolutionize the industry. Hell, I’d lay money that they don’t make it past the second album -- this is one of those bands that created a solid piece of work but will more than likely fade into oblivion. But the fact remains, Leave A Whisper is a solid rock album and you have to grab onto these rare pieces when they come around. So check it out.

* * * *


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