Candlebox – Love Stories and Other Musings (2012)

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Music

In the heyday of the grunge scene, there were so many bands exploiting the scene it was hard for one to keep track. There were, of course, the godfathers of the scene – led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden – but just below them were several standout, albeit under appreciated bands. Screaming Trees, Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney all released great albums during the popular years, and a few bands caught the back end of the era to great success.

One of those was Seattle’s Candlebox. At the time, the band was criticized for merely “attempting to cash in” on the grunge craze (and signing to Madonna’s Maverick Records didn’t really help that perception). After all, they weren’t really rooted deeply in the grunge scene, and their sound came off a bit more polished than their bretheren – but it didn’t stop the band from releasing two immaculate records (1993’s self-titled album and 2005’s Lucy).

Despite the negative attention, what drove the band to stardom was the unique voice of front man Kevin Martin. Martin’s style was a little more bluesy and a little less angry than say Vedder or Cobain, and paired with slick guitars and heavy rock style, the band won over fans as quickly as they could write songs. Towards the end of the century, however, things started changing in the scene. The death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was the beginning of the end for the culture, and over the next couple of years, most of the grunge bands released their final albums and subsequently broke up. By the time Candlebox released Happy Pills in 1998, the world had seemingly moved on to greener pastures, and shortly after the release, the band went on indefinite hiatus, leaving an unfulfilled contract with Maverick, who eventually dropped the band.

The fact that Candlebox wasn’t really a grunge band didn’t matter. Guilt by association, I guess, but the band stayed buried until 2006, when after a release of a Greatest Hits compilation, the band reunited for a short tour to commemorate the release. It was at this time that the band – even without a label – began writing new music together for what would end up being 2008’s Into The Sun. The album was by no means a grunge revival record, and instead found the band playing ballsy rock and roll with infectious vocals. The album charted well and got the band back on the tips of the collective industry tongues. It seemed like the band was ready to return to the top of the alternative rock scene, and then…

Nothing.

As quick as they had returned, they had found their way back to obscurity. Martin, in fact, grabbed guitarist Sean Hennesy and joined up with a few members from Live and released a (killer) album in 2010 under the moniker The Gracious Few, and the Candlebox era seemed to have drawn to an uneventful close. But before you go pouring out a beer in solemn remembrance, there is good news on the horizon.

Somehow oblivious to my constant scouring of the web for music news and forthcoming releases, the band is sneaking out their fifth studio album, Love Stories and Other Musings in April, and it couldn’t come soon enough.

A few players have come and gone over the last the twenty years, but the core of Martin, Hennesy, drummer Scott Mercado and guitarist Peter Klett have returned with a span of nine new studio tracks (as well as a trip down memory lane with five re-recorded classics). The fact that you haven’t heard the songs at the end of the album for a while, yet you still know every word speaks loudly as to how good the band was. But the question we have to answer is not of the past, but of the now. Does Candlebox still have any gas left in the tank, or has the energy and excellence simply been left “Far Behind”…

The album roars open with “Youth In Revolt,” and if you thought the band was hoping to just go through the motions and cash in on their legacy, guess again. The renewed spirit and energy slaps you square in the jaw and the sting resonates through the entire track. If the band caught hell for not really being a grunge band, let this be a re-introduction for them. Welcome to Candlebox, the rock band. Martin picks right up where he left off with powerful chops, and the band is as crisp and clean as ever.

“Sweet Summertime” opens with a Tom Petty-esque vibe, but slowly grows from ballad, to mid-tempo rocker, to a full-on erection of modern rock. The lyrics stay light and melodic throughout, and this may end up being a lot of people’s summer anthem. Another solid effort.

The true proof that the grunge is a distant memory for these lads is the uplifting message behind “Believe In It,” the albums first single. While grunge music is know =n for misery and angst, Martin tells the listener here to keep their chin up and embrace the happiness in life. A far cry from twenty years ago. The track is well-written, and showcases every aspect the band has to offer. Soaring guitars, smart drums, groovy bass lines, and Martin showing off the fact that he’s lost absolutely vocally over the years.

“She Come Over Me” will remind you of the slowed-down songs from previous albums. It’s another positive song (which has become the apparent theme here), that ebbs and flows between guitar fills and delicate vocals. It’s not the loudest song of the nine, but it’s probably one of the strongest. From a song-writing standpoint, it’s absolutely flawless, and Martin delivers one of the more soulful efforts along the way.

It would be really easy to hear “Turn Your Heart Around” and immediately be convinced that it’s a love song, but there’s so much more to it. In fact, it almost sounds like a desperate plea for forgiveness – to the fans? to his mistakes? Hard to tell, really, but what comes across crystal clear is that Martin is a changed man. More mature, more in touch with the world, and holding a newfound respect for music and his god-given talents. I found the track very revealing, and very open and honest. And again, very well done.

“Lifelike Song” is a mix of some heavy blues with almost a bit of a psychedelic vibe. Fuzzy guitars permeate the air and Martin has a little more warble in his delivery. It’s smooth and sexy, all the while wearing a pair of grease-covered boots and leaving heavy prints. The perfect balance of what this band was, and what this band now is – and worth every single rewind.

Most of the time, Candlebox teases at the ballad, only to end up rocking your socks off by the end of the song, but “Come Home” is the antithesis of that pattern. It starts methodically and stays right there, but before you go and write the track off, pay it some attention. The bass line is simple, yet engaging, and the echoed vocals add an almost haunting element to the track. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of slow wock, but this one worked for me, and it will for you, too.

“Baby Love Me” continues the softer feel, but ups the tempo enough to “toe-tap” your way through it. Another personal track from Martin, it is a very introspective track on matters of the heart. Take your pick here – you can pump your fist to it, or dance with your lady to it. Sure to be a crowd favorite when the band unleashes the new material live on their upcoming tour.

Even though it felt like the album had just started, “Them Eyes” closes out the new material on Love Stories. Again we get the softer side, but the soul just smothers you whole. Martin was always one of my favorite singers back in the day, and he has re-established himself as maybe one of rock’s greatest voices going. There’s no tricks or auto-tune here, just a raw, powerful energy that not too many vocalists have the stroke to pull off these days. Any less of a vocalist wouldn’t have been able to sell me on three near-ballads in a row, but Martin kept me right on the prick of my ears the whole way.

Closing out the album are the “classic” tracks we mentioned before. “Far Behind,” “You,” “Cover Me,” “Change,” and “Simple Lessons” will forever hold their place in rock history as great tracks, and even though I enjoyed these re-recordings, I would have much preferred a few more offerings of new material. But beggars can’t be choosers. Seeing as how the band has found new life, and recorded such a strong release, I doubt it will be too long before we are treated to more new material.

Life has taken us all strange places over the last twenty years, and to find Candlebox returning full circle and recording more amazing music is a testament to the fact that music is more than an artform – it is an integral part of life, and so very much more. The days of flannel cutoff shirts and Doc Marten’s may be a thing of the past, but for some, the passion is obviously as strong as ever. Welcome back, fellas…

9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Youth In Revolt
2. Sweet Summertime
3. Believe In It
4. She Come Over Me
5. Turn Your Heart Around
6. Lifelike Song
7. Come Home
8. Baby Love Me
9. Them Eyes
10. Far Behind (Bonus Track)
11. You (Bonus Track)
12. Cover Me (Bonus Track)
13. Change (Bonus Track)
14. Simple Lessons (Bonus Track)

Buy at Amazon

Myspace: Link | Wiki: Link

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s