I feel like more so than ever, today’s music is a mish-mash of other forms of music. This has been true for a long time – “everything is a remix”, as they say – but there’s something about music from the 2000s so far that has been more referential, and consisting of very distinct components of other genres mashed together in a significantly more direct manner. A rap verse interjecting midway through a folk song? Cool. A hip-hop tune with a progressive rock sample as its main beat? Wicked. Indie rock guitars with a sweeping orchestral arrangement as backup? No problemo.
Blue October, thankfully bored of making overly-commercialized mainstream rock, are the latest band to jump on this trend with their newest record Any Man in America. Specifically, beats drop and rhymes are thrown down as their radio rock sensibility mixes with an explicit hip-hop/R&B influence. The question is, do we really want to hear the singer of “Hate Me” spitting verses?
The answer to this really depends on whether you can tolerate the mainstream sound that Blue October have been pushing over the past few years mixing with some decidedly un-funky hip-hop. Make no mistake – despite the new digs, this is still a slickly-produced package, with synth strings and big anthemic choruses that will make it pretty easy for the average listener to get into.
Luckily, the sound change ends up actually working most of the time. True, the overall sound is one of commercial hard rock, but this isn’t some 3 Doors Down record; there’s actual ingenuity here, with pretty much every song having at least some sort of neat, out-of-the-box moment. Check out how the beautifully harmonized verse of “The Getting Over It Part” moves into a sweeping string-laden chorus, or how “The Money Tree” breaks into a half-time hip-hop segment for 10 seconds and then continues like nothing happened. It’s pretty cool stuff.
The one place the album falters – and it’s something that very nearly negates all the interesting musical choices – is in the lyrics. Much of the album’s lyrical content deals with guitarist/singer Justin Furstenfeld’s divorce with his wife, and subsequent legal battles for custody of his daughter. While this does give the album a personal and, most importantly, genuine air, it’s also done in an overly-dramatic way that often makes the initially hard-to-swallow sound experimentation even harder to accept. I feel for the guy – it’s certainly some rough, emotional stuff to get through, but unfortunate posturing lines like “Please help me understand/why you can’t talk man to man/But you can stand with a dick in your hand/you’re acting like a pussy, man” are hard to excuse.
Still, the lyrics aren’t an absolute deal-breaker, and there’s enough interesting sounds to make Any Man in America come out on top. This is how you do mainstream rock – it’s a very interesting progression for a band that badly needed one and lines up with mainstream sensibilities enough to be popular, but it also changes and expands on their sound enough to make us more adventurous music nerds happy just the same.