There’s a reason why rock records can’t be marked or scored like job applications. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that a form was produced to do just that, with lots of tick-boxes and sections to be marked loosely out of three or five. Expertly played funky slap bass? Get a point. Confident vocal delivery in an American style? Two points. Efficient plucking of numerous musical nostalgia strings from well-loved rock anthems? Maybe 10 points – it’s a big winner with the punters, after all.
The thing is, such a score-sheet would likely mark out Dream Salvation as one of the rock albums of the year. It ticks all the right boxes, and does so with professionalism and vigour. That score would be wrong, though. This is a very good album, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something missing here, and it’s stopping Chapter XIII realising the awesome potential they clearly have.
Let’s get back to those good bits, though, as there are many. Chapter XIII may be from Bristol, but they’ve clearly got their hearts in California funk-rock. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and especially Faith No More are clear influences throughout, along with a dash of West Coast progressive house music to boot. Like Faith No More, they throw a huge variety of genres into the mix, and similarly pull most of them together with controlled precision and flair.
Opener Lucky Day kicks off with a spiky synth intro and electronic drums before introducing all the ingredients that swim in the Chapter XIII stew – spiky slap bass a la Billy Gould, epic guitar breaks and absurdly infectious keyboard flurries. Previous single The Last Time goes one better on all of these. It almost stands up to Faith No More in their Real Thing period, although minus Patton (which is a big minus).
On Lately and I’m Alive, Chapter XIII drift firmly into Red Hot Chili Peppers territory, and the worry signs start to appear. Both are good tracks, and verge on greatness at times, but there’s that niggling something hidden amongst the cheesy guitar breaks. Then on Don’t Break Me Down it hits – vocalist Mark Nelmes is sounding just that bit too much like Anthony Kiedis. Except that’s just when he’s in Kiedis Territory. Check out Hit Me, with its oh-so Pearl Jam riff and all of a sudden he sounds more like Eddie Vedder. He never sounds like Mike Patton, but in fairness no-one but Patton himself has ever managed that. You never get the feeling that you know what Nelmes’ own vocal style is – it just sounds like a collage of his influences.
The myriad of ideas and sources that have gone into Dream Salvation have been well glued together, but (despite great production throughout) the edges still show. There’s some really bizarre keyboard moments here too, especially on the Robert Miles style piano motif to Dust To Dust which, just like the rest, is still a really good song. Go figure.
Also, given the comparisons above, it’s all very safe. Where the Chilis had Kiedis’ libido, Faith No More had the insanity of Patton and Fishbone had the insanity of the whole band, there’s just no rock ‘n’ roll danger here. In this aspect Dream Salvation is almost like The Rasmus‘ second album – often superb, but much derided as it’s just not all that rock ‘n’ roll.
Get to the absurdly poppy closing track – which is almost boy-band material – and you can’t help feel that this must be intentional. Maybe that’s where we need to put the all these concerns aside. As a pop-rock album, Dream Salvation is superb, and, given the right exposure, it’s got hit potential written all over it. It’s a great rock album too, but in this respect they’re setting themselves a much tougher goal.
Dream Salvation has a habit, in its best moments, of reminding us of even better moments from bands that came before. This can only make them seem second best. They’ve got the chops, they just need the attitude. After all, if they want to be kings of the pond, they’re going to have to make like Yertle the Turtle and climb up on top to assert their glory.