Stereophonics are back, and with an album title as safe as Keep Calm And Carry On, they’re not about to surprise. It seems Kelly Jones and company have aptly titled this, their seventh studio outing, in which the goal seems to be only to produce safe, middling tunes for the legions of fans who’ve been waiting on them. Indeed to merely carry on.
It’s almost impossible to find anything new or noteworthy in Stereophonics’ painfully paint-by-numbers rock ‘n’ roll approach this time round. But while none of this album challenges or inspires, it does often benefit from a certain gritty, back-to-the-garage quality, and there’s something endearing about some of these utterly straightforward tunes. The lead single and standout track Innocent, for instance, is a sunny pop gem amid all the tired noise.
The album opens with the trippy hipster rave She’s Alright, which offers a promising take on angular ’70s garage by way of Stone Temple Pilots‘ Big Bang Baby. Jones’s trademark flypaper rasp presents itself in full force over gritty guitars and a processed wall of drums and handclaps. The hook is solid, but Collective Soul probably thought the same when they wrote it into Shine in 1994.
On Could You Be The One? Jones unleashes a veritable barrage of pop-culture references, recycling lyrics and rasping: “Every little thing you do is magic lately. Every single thing that you do is cool. Everything you do is tragically hip,” et cetera. If you’re going to ape lyrics, there are possibly worse sources than Sting – and the song’s “Could you be the one for me?” chorus mirrors the lyrical stagnancy by sounding almost exactly like a slowed down re-spinning of the Stone Roses classic, This Is The One.
And when the lyrics aren’t borrowed, they’re especially uninspired. On I Got Your Number Jones sings the pedestrian rock ‘n’ roll by way of Sesame Street with the line, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. I’ve got your number; you’re a fake.” Similarly, on Stuck In A Rut – which, in a turn of influences, sounds a bit like Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ Slow Cheetah – Jones seems to be attempting to play to the back row, but he falls flat with such tired lyrics as “Just pack your soul and don’t stay,” and “It’s time to let go, get on with the show. The clock is ticking.”
Despite the occasional big-stage theatrics (Show Me How, Could You Be The One?, Stuck In A Rut), Keep Calm And Carry On showcases a band completely devoid of soul, that nearly indefinable, but totally necessary arena rock quality. On the faster, no holds barred rock tunes (She’s Alright, Trouble, I Got Your Number) this isn’t so much of a problem; no one expects a band straight from the garage to play with any feeling other than ham-handed aggression. It’s in this department that Stereophonics excel, and while it may have been a while since their garage days in Cwmaman, it seems they’ve found themselves facing something of an identity crisis.
In the end, Keep Calm And Carry On is a forgettable, throwaway stopgap, a dog-eared blast of mediocrity in the career of a mainstay band. Whether they’re capable of any more remains a moot point; the autopilot’s on and they’re cruising.