Rival Sons continues to call to mind the classic rock traditions of the ‘70s and ‘80s on their third full-length album, “Head Down.” Their bluesy, raspy vocals and guitar-driven melodies are more reminiscent of that time period than more current alternative rock trends. Though the band successfully manages to avoid sounding like an ‘80s tribute band, their own ambition leads them astray.
The hardest worker on this album is undoubtedly the guitar. More so than with the other instruments or the vocals, “Head Down” is a masterpiece in guitar work. “Nava,” one of the final songs on the album, is an entirely instrumental, guitar-driven track. The exquisitely intricate, rhythmic fingerpicking produces a very folksy, delicate ballad, with no extraneous bells and whistles to detract from the impeccable execution. Known for their classic rock leanings, Rival Sons delivers on songs like “Keep On Swinging” and “You Want To” that bring together guitar-driven melodies and strong, stirring vocals into quintessential rock ‘n’ roll.
“Manifest Destiny Pt. 1” is a…weird song. Clocking in at just under 8 and a half minutes, the piece sounds, and feels, like several radically different tracks have been chopped up and pieced together. Not only do the different segments not mesh well with each other, moving haphazardly from falsetto vocals backed by distorted, grunge guitar melodies to a pop rock guitar solo to a dramatic hair metal finish, but they don’t make sense with most of the rest of the album.
In comparison, “Jordan” sounds like a totally different band from a totally different decade. Unlike most of the other tracks, “Jordan” keeps its background instrumentation to a minimum and puts the focus on the almost a capella vocals, creating a much more indie, folksy vibe. While the song is well executed and one of my favorites on the album, it falls victim to the same circumstances as the overly elaborate “Manifest Destiny Pt. 1” and instrumental “Nava”: they don’t sound like they belong on the album. Branching out from their skillful version of classic blues rock proves to be a risk that doesn’t pay off, creating a discombobulated, uncertain sound throughout “Head Down.”