Frequently pigeonholed as mere Killers knockoffs, these feisty Texans turn in an invigoratingly multi-faceted set that just might prove the naysayers wrong.
Label: Forefront Records
Time: 13 tracks / 46:20 minutes
Whether they do it consciously or not, most artists in the music world tend to settle into a particular stylistic approach early in their careers and then stick with that style until they finally decide to call it a day. Every now and then, though, an intrepid artist will heave caution to the wind and toss their audience a curve ball. David Bowie is a good case in point. His 1975 Young Americans album found the courageous Londoner making a clean break with the glam rock that had vaulted him to superstardom during the first half of the ‘70s, and wholeheartedly embracing the blue-eyed soul genre – much to the chagrin of the bulk of his followers up to that time. Likewise, after crafting a decade’s worth of earnest, spiritually-directed arena-ready rock anthems, the lads of U2 ushered in the ‘90s in truly ironic, self-deprecating form, with the alt-rock-meets-electronica textures of the landmark Achtung Baby release. And one could argue that Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr set the absolute gold standard when it came to never making the same record twice.
For better or worse, vocalist Josh Engler and his cohorts in Abandon have been tagged as “that Christian band that sounds like the Killers.” And, truth be told, one spin of their 2009 full-length debut, Searchlights, is all most listeners will need to be convinced that the description, offhand as it may be, is, for the most part, pretty accurate. Those who found the unmistakable similarity more refreshing than off-putting will delighted to learn that Engler is still holding fast to the frenetic, semi-yelping vocals that helped draw comparisons between himself and Killers front man Brandon Flowers in the first place. And tracks like “Under Fire,” “S.O.S.” and “Push it Away” from the new album are drawn from the same musical well as their elder Searchlights cousins. “Live It Out,” in particular, offers the most obvious proof of the Abandon lads’ continuing debt to their idols; sounding, for all the world, like Sanctus Real playing a cover version of “Mr. Brightside.”
The remaining cuts, on the other hand, find the group taking a completely unexpected detour, a la Bowie et al., and setting sail for other, more soul-inclined waters. The invigorating opening entry, “Feel It in Your Heart,” comes across a bit like a modern rock rewrite of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ early MTV-era classic, “Come On Eileen.“ “Let Go” tempers the band’s obvious debt to Flowers & Co. with just enough rhythmic content to differentiate it from the songs on the previous effort. “Talk to Me” will have more than a few fans of Maroon 5’s “This Love” raising knowing, albeit most likely pleased, eyebrows. And the impeccably-crafted “Help” marks the spot where the fivesome’s longstanding alt-pop sensibility meshes seamlessly with its newfound love of all things rhythmic to create that rarest of all beasts – a soaring rock anthem that you can actually dance to.
The mix of new and familiar styles will, inevitably, usher in a whole new set of admirers even as it ostracizes many a member of the existing fan base. That said, regardless of stylistic preference, almost all of Control’s songs are both consummately performed and ingratiatingly catchy. In fact, the only out-and-out gaffe is the cloying piano-based ballad, “Hero,” a lackluster, and decidedly superfluous, piece which also appeared in the closing spot, in an only slightly different version, on the Searchlights release. Engler’s warbling continues to be something of an acquired taste. And the ongoing Killers similarities may well be a deal breaker for some. Taken on its own merit, however, the new project is a worthy follow on to its rightly successful predecessor. And, whatever else it might be, Engler’s high-strung delivery is hard to ignore – which, one could argue, is the very hallmark of a great rock vocalist. Trimming one or two tracks may well have made for a bona fide no-filler affair. But even if it tips the scales slightly above its ideal fighting weight, the Control record is still an absolutely first-rate addition to the talented five piece’s ever-diversifying body of work.