CD Review: Blue October – ‘Sway’

By August 16, 2013 CD, Reviews

Oh that tricky seventh album syndrome – that’s a thing right?  Serious props (because I’m that street yo) are due to Blue October for still being with us in the fickle contemporary musical climate.  We see bands come and go with greater haste than speed daters at Katie Price’s house, and yet Justin Furstenfeld’s not-so-merry crew are still here, and they’re buried up to the misery glands in album number seven.

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First the good news – even this many releases into their (kind of) illustrious career, the band are still learning and ‘Sway’ is a definite improvement over the maudlin sentimentalism of ‘Any Man In America’ (or album number 6 to you and me). Dwelling on personal misery, and crying over the spilled milk of one’s relationship hiccoughs, is obviously a staple of rock song writing, but that last album was self-indulgent bordering on irritating.  You want to evoke empathy and a sense of a collective need to fight, and share in the remarkable emotional depths the human spirit can plumb. You do not want everyone listening to your infernal moaning to respond with a collective howl of, “Just man up!”  Fortunately, ‘Sway’ will not have you doing that.

In fact there’s quite a bit to commend on this album.  The whole record feels like a lot of love went into its inception and recording. It’s smooth, clean, crisp, and everywhere the production sparkles as if it were blessed by the tech fairies. The opening double-header is a sombre pairing that ensures the album sort of whimpers into action.  Rather than a bang, we travel from mellow acoustics, into slightly less mellow electro-cheese. Third track ‘Angels In Everything’ finally kicks things up a gear (well in a Phil Collins kind of way), but then ‘Bleed Out’ slows things up again with the congestion only an over-the-top power pop ballad can bring.

While you wouldn’t go so far as to call it “experimentation” there certainly is some variety here.  The epic (in length if not content) ‘Debris’ seriously threatens to go somewhere several times throughout its overwrought meander, and though it never quite does, the promise is still lurking in the background. ‘Things We Don’t Know About’ is a nice idea, and it is as sentimental as the band dare to venture on ‘Sway’, unfortunately this ode to a child (the subject of a custody suit, after Furstenfeld added another divorce to his personal discography) is let down by a total devolution of a chorus.

There follows the remarkably similar sounding pairing ‘Hard Candy’ and ‘Put It In’.  The earlier having a particularly pleasing stomp, and the latter employing a perfectly radio-hugging chorus, it seems strange that these two tracks weren’t used for their component parts to create a single track which could have been a true standout on the album.

‘Things We Do At Night’ is a definite highlight with some inventive drumming (really the only time that can be mentioned regarding any of the musicianship on offer here) and some fresh sounding vocals. Sadly it also employs some criminally lazy lyrical work: “Things we do at night, we’re keeping it together ‘til the morning light.” Are you indeed?  Well, have fun, I will go and strangle my guinea pigs in frustration over the flames of disgust that now burn so savagely in my gut over your startling and inventive use of rhyme (am I taking this too seriously?).

If you’re a Blue October fan this will more than service your cravings, and it is definitely a shuffle in a positive direction. It’s slick, it’s pristine, it’s often good, but it is, above all else, safe and uninspired. Maybe that’s the niche. ‘Sway’ won’t rock your world, but it might cleanse your palette like a lemongrass smoothie, leaving your musical colon squeaky clean for the more challenging tuneful digestion you have to contend with this summer.

rating-2

6 Comments

  • bjkautz@me.com' Brian says:

    I agree with Jeff that Justin sounds like he is in a good place. However, the album in my opinion fell short. I was extremely disappointed with this album. Not even close to some of their best work. Light you up was a let down. It sounds horrible. I will not be attending their new tour because I don’t care to listen to a poor album performed live. I’m truly sorry Justin. I am at a loss for words. It sounds like your heart was in the right place, but I will continue to listen to your old music.

  • muzyckalnyj@yandex.ru' John says:

    I like new album. Good songs

  • savingseventeen@yahoo.com' Josh says:

    Ugh, this album…I agree with Brian 100% but I would also like to add some more to this.

    I am also disappointed with this album, for a few reasons that come from interviews with Justin and his thinking and motivation behind this album and new philosophy in music writing, and also from my own pathetic expectations and enjoyment/adoration of previous, better albums.

    Well, at least 3 of the songs are subtlely talking about sex: things we do at night, debris, and put it in. i know this from interviews with Justin. And most of the album is about his wife, good grief. angels in everything, sway, bleed out, debris, things we dont know about, not broken anymore and things we do at night are all about his wife, mostly. i feel like this is wasted potential, because there is more to life than romance and women.

    also, Justin’s philosophy now, he never wants to focus on or sing about negative things now. he wants to be happy happy joy joy all the time, everything is fine and good and swell and wonderful and we all sway and nothing is ever the matter because any troubles we can just conquer and rise above. good GRIEF. what a giant switch this is from AMIA which i find annoying. youre going from one extreme to another. look at the new interviews Justin is having, he’s talking about how AMIA was his lowest point ever (what? previous albums were much darker and sadder) and he couldn’t go any lower. so now he has to go to the utmost high because he’s sober now and has to get rid of all negativity. which is commendable but stuff in life will always be bad, there’s nothing wrong with expressing it and talking about it, there’s nothing wrong with grieving or weeping, WHICH IS WHAT HE HAS ALWAYS DONE AND PEOPLE LOVED IT AND RELATED TO IT, but now he’s done a complete 180 and gotten rid of all of what people used to love. because “happiness and joy and peace and serenity” 100% all the time and nothing else, which i think is BS. and besides, he could have done a much better job of exploring these positive themes, but most of Sway consists of sex, his wife, and still focusing on himself because yes, this album is still about Justin.

    just one big disappointment. i will also stick to older and much better Blue October, when they were far more inspired.

  • stixaz@hotmail.com' Sonia says:

    Have to agree with Steve Nash, I’m just not that into this album. I’d much rather pop in Consent to Treatment or History for Sale.

  • garnetsandy@yahoo.com' Sandy says:

    I also agree. I thought there would be an adjustment period, that same usual moderate disdain for a beloved band’s newest release, which in most cases, grows on me over a short time. I also thought that I’d really love and relate to this album, because I got sober right around the same time as Justin and Ryan. As far as it being all about Justin, I am used to that, so that’s what I was expecting.

    So far, I like the title track a lot and I just love “Bleed Out” I am not at all tired of listening to it, but the rest of the album is…well…too ‘YAAAAY LIFE’ for my taste. Upbeat. Almost dance-y at times. A lot of “I used to ____, but now I ____.” going on. And ugh, the sexual references! Not really working for me. Somehow, it seems forced. Like he’s obliged to translate his newfound love for life/wife/kid/sobriety into song, and nothing else matters.

    I’m glad they released the “Debris” EP to accompany “Sway”; the ‘unplugged’ sound is more reminiscent of many of my favorite old Blue songs, and I’ve not listened to “Sway” since I’ve had the “Debris” tracks available. Re: what you guys said about production: there seems to be more freedom and less polish on the acoustic album. Another reason, I think, that I prefer those versions.

    Perhaps one of the reasons I can’t connect is because the content is like you’ve said, extremely positive overall, and seems to be largely about the new wife. I’m single, so I’m not feeling that honeymoon-high that JF was on while writing and recording these songs. Which makes me wonder; has Justin simply replaced one addiction with another? Are Sarah and Sayde his new drug of choice? What will happen if, God forbid, anything were to go wrong with the new family that he couldn’t fix? Would he survive? Would the next Blue October album be ‘sad’ again, and would us fans complain about that, too? 😉

  • djmayerfzr@hotmail.com' Dave says:

    Just to bring a different perspective, I’m 46 and have only discovered this band in the last 2 months having heard Bleed Out on-line, it made me curious to find out more. I picked up A.M.I.A and think it’s a brilliant piece of work, very raw/emotional and lyrically quite stunning but most importantly undoubtedly melodic and listenable. I got Sway last week and whilst it’s certainly different it still has depth, melody and again is a bloody good collection of songs. So as a ‘new fan’ can I say that I don’t think it matters so much that J.F is expressing his new found happiness or his angst at his divorce & custody battle just so long as he/they deliver strong, good and listenable music. I’ve listened on line to some of the earlier stuff and to be honest a lot of it leaves me a little cold, I guess some will say I’m not a ‘true fan’ having come to the party rather late. But surely music is about discovery, personal taste and appreciation plus remember bands/people evolve, mature, change and get to new places emotionally and their music changes with them. For the band hopefully, like me, others have discovered them through this album and can swell the ranks. I will be seeing them on the U.K. leg of the tour for the first time ever and this is as a direct result of ‘Sway’….so something’s obviously worked!!

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