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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Album Review: Maylene & The Sons Of Disaster - IV

are down with universal karma. The quintet have, after all, allied themselves to the identities of each of Ma Baker’s five sons; not to rain musical hell down upon us, but to set right some of the wrongs committed by those individuals; to re-align the karmic equilibrium by sending out good messages and vibes. Their third album, the imaginatively titled III, was a real trailblazer and they toured the backside off it. It was forceful enough to see them performing alongside such snarling collectives as , and . I know this because it’s etched across my mind as one of the best gigs I’ll ever witness, and most notable because The Sons didn’t just hold their own that night, they went and jaw-droppingly blew the rest away.

Having now heard the surprisingly limp output of the predictably monikered IV, I doubt very much if they’ll continue to tour with similarly noisome company. Gone is the fantastically unhinged, disembodied element of Dallas Taylor’s howl and gone are the wild, rabble-rousing guitar leads. Also gone are the fun touches hidden within both II and III, leaving behind a joylessly bland, rock-by-numbers imprint. It’s fair to say the rigours of the aforementioned kinds of tours has meant that, since III, they have had a bit of a personnel transplant so maybe it’s not so surprising after all. So radical are the changes that only lead vocalist Taylor and guitarist Chad Huff (who only joined, himself, right before they recorded 2009′s III) remain in position.

The songs still swing with that indicatively Southern, swampy, blues rock swing that so marks the band out. However, they are now top-loaded with pop hooks, emotionless repetition, harmonies and unsettlingly weak melodies. Tracks like “Faith Healer (Bring Me Down)” and “Open Your Eyes” drift past on the air like wet farts; instead of being punchy, addictive pop, this is the kind of ineffectual mainstream twaddle that invites a quick switch of stations. I’m all for a good, well-written, hook-laden pop song so, by all means, bring your music to the masses if it has something new to say but please don’t water it down until so-little flavor remains.

There are moments of hope amongst all this doom and gloom. Opener “In Dead We Dream” reminds us what the band are capable of when they ramp it back up, “Cat’s Walk” pares down the mix to inject an unexpectedly punkish kick, “Drought Of ’85″, though dreadfully repetitious, allows you a moment to revel in the track’s change to acoustic and steel guitars, and “Killing Me Slow” has a crafty, black-key riff, pre-chorus, that duck-walks effectively into a fat-ass groove. Of course the bass is still reassuringly deep and strong and the album pacing is still pretty much spot on. Past that, it’s hard to find anything of merit. Slow-numbers “Come For You” and “Taking On Water” speak, unforgivably, from somewhere other than the heart and “Fate Games” and “Never Enough”, at under four minutes, offer nothing but filler. Considering the fresh personnel, I just don’t see how this can be. Listening closely, I get this strong feeling about IV that suggests, for whatever reason, this is now just a band going through the motions.

Poppier than ever and, despite their protestations to the opposite, preachier than ever (the less said about “Faith Healer” and “Off To The Laughing Place” the better), IV is the sound of Ma Bakers’ boys attempting to grow up. Sadly, they also appear to be growing out. Following the path most-trodden may lead to a pot of gold but on this evidence, as karma dictates, there will be no fans there to greet them when they claim their prize.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/maylene-and-the-sons-of-disaster-iv

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