‘Scream Above the Sounds’ marks something of an achievement for Stereophonics, being their tenth record since the Welsh rockers first tuned their guitars in the early 90s. Along their way they’ve scored six number one albums for their troubles, and a number one single in the form of ‘Dakota’, cementing themselves as one of Britain’s biggest-selling rock bands. ‘Scream Above the Sounds’ looks set to put the Phonics top of the charts again, unsurprising for an album that’s almost suffocating in its comfort zone.
Opener ‘Caught by the Wind’ isn’t an unpleasant song in the slightest, and is actually one of the standouts from the album. The steady pace set by drummer Jamie Morrison creates a nice rhythm for Kelly Jones to sing over, but like with much of the album, it never really goes anywhere. It’s anthemic alright, perhaps to the point where it actually becomes catchy. However it’s the type of music you can just imagine Jones passionately nodding along to, convinced that it’s the Phonics’ greatest work yet.
‘Taken a Tumble’ follows this, its opening riffs echoing the bouncy lead single from ‘Keep the Village Alive’, ‘C’est la Vie’, only slower and with less energy. Remarkably this continues throughout the whole track, interspersed with lyrics so bland and lazy you’d be forgiven for thinking that these were just temporary placeholders to help find the song’s melody. “Yeah I’ve fallen, Yeah I’ve taken a tumble, I’ve fallen head over heels for you” hardly sets the world alight, especially when paired with Jones’ bizarre synthetic vocals.
For all their critics, the Stereophonics have always thrived when Jones’ raw vocals and clever storytelling have taken centre stage. Yet this album seems content in its mediocrity and middle of the road status. Somehow the banal ‘All in One Night’ was fronted as the lead single, which – to its credit – does have an almost sinister aura, created by the drum machine similar to what made ‘You Gotta Go There To Come Back’ so great. But then we come to the lyrics and the story Jones tells, which is neither interesting nor edgy. Coming from a band revered for the tales told in ‘Local Boy in the Photograph’ and such, it really does make you wonder how this was shafted to be the shining centrepiece for the band.
There is potential in the album, but it never really lives up to expectations. Ballad ‘Before Anyone Knew Our Name’ is a touching tribute to former drummer Stuart Cable and demonstrates Jones’ incredible vocal style like no other on the album, but is rather strangely placed in the middle of the album, killing all momentum that ‘Scream Above the Sounds’ was threatening to hold.
‘Cryin’ in Your Beer’ contains the album’s second reference to a merry-go-round, perhaps a subconscious hint to Jones that the Phonics are simply going round in circles. There’s inspiration taken from most of their previous albums, and this does reflect the band well. Final track ‘Elevators’ could so easily have come from ‘Just Enough Education to Perform’, with its gentle harmonies and easy-going vibes.
There’s no doubt that some of these tracks like ‘Caught by the Wind’ will become crowd-pleasers in due course, sandwiching themselves in the setlists between big-hitters ‘Have a Nice Day’ and ‘Indian Summer’. And with many of the songs, it’s difficult to pinpoint anything wrong with them. It’s just that it’s even harder to identify anything that’s right with them. This isn’t an album that’ll convince old fans who had given up with the band to come back, nor is it an album which will win them a new legion of fans. What this is is a record that sounds pleasant enough if you don’t listen too hard, ignoring the clichéd lyrics and lack of spark.
Scream Above the Sounds is out now via Stylus Records.
The album’s track list is as follows…
Caught By The Wind
Taken A Tumble
What’s All The Fuss About?
All In One Night
Before Anyone Knew Our Name
Would You Believe?
Cryin’ In Your Beer
Boy On A Bike