May 26, 2015
Their debut album No Name Face proved to be worth that claim. Songwriting that showed purpose, inspiration, depth, variety and accessibility was combined with an overall sound that was organic and fit together to form a cohesive record. While their sophomore release didn’t garner as much commercial success as their debut, Stanley Climbfall still felt like it was connected and the songs seemed to belong together. On this second release, the band embraced their (post-)grunge and garage rock roots as their sound was slightly more alternative. Their third release, which was a self-titled effort had a more pop-oriented sound which gave them more commercial success, including the hit single You And Me. Lyrically, some of the songs weren’t as rich with imagery anymore and the expression in them became a little more generic, however, the album was balanced and it felt like there was a common bond between the songs. It was the first release since the band had had several personnel changes, so a period of transition was something we may have expected there. The transition seemed to have gone over relatively smoothly though.
On the next couple of albums (Who We Are, Smoke & Mirrors and Almeria), the band strayed further from their roots and two things were apparent. The songwriting was becoming hit or miss. Who We Are and Smoke & Mirrors had a couple of terrific songs but in general the albums easily got lost among the hundreds of similar releases. That organic, inspiring songwriting and passionate sound the band employed to set itself apart in the years before slipped further and further away from them. The albums didn’t feel like albums but more like a collection of co-writes and b-sides that were put together. The fact that for most of the releases the most inspiring songs (Signs of Life, Crash & Burn and I’ll Keep The Change come to mind) were added as bonus tracks instead of album tracks says enough for me.
This straying, if you will, came to a culmination on the band’s previous release, Almeria. The western-themed record was a collection of bland, uninspired tracks that would have potential had they been properly worked out. But a lack of lyrical content (some of the songs were hardly more than a chorus repeating itself) was the first sign that this record wouldn’t become much of a success. On top of that, the band hardly seemed to have any faith in their own record. The songs had no fire, the band didn’t promote it at all and stopped performing. At the time, some soul searching seemed to be needed. Something was lost, a spark was (nearly) extinguished and for Lifehouse to become a strong, believable and successful act again would require a change. The band seemed to feel the same as an indefinite hiatus was announced and all the band members went off to do their own exploits.
The hiatus didn’t last all that long though. Lead singer and songwriter Jason Wade was trying to put the finishing touches on a solo release when he realized he had written several songs that he could only characterize as Lifehouse songs. Upon sharing these songs with the rest of the band members, a plan to resurface as Lifehouse was quickly devised. Being freed from the shackles of a major label, they now had complete creative control to do what they wanted and become enthusiastic teenagers again, if not physically, then at least mentally. The spark seemed to ignite again and songs were recorded. After some debating, the album title was eventually announced as Out of the Wasteland. An aptly titled record for a band that had to come from very far to get back to where the once were. The question we should ask ourselves though: have they managed to get out of the wasteland completely or are they still a little stuck?
Out of the Wasteland features twelve songs (bonus material not counted) and upon first listen fans can be hopeful for the future. There is familiar imagery in the songwriting and there is a freshness to the performance on the album that aids the delivery of the songs. You can tell the band believes in their own work again and is eager to get it out to their fans. It is also the first time the band produced their album by themselves entirely and it is obvious there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to bringing out the best of the songs. It’s like a kid with a new toy who got overly excited and wants to try out everything it can do. Sometimes the use of vocal layers and filters is a little too heavy for my taste and it takes away from the vocal delivery and melodic quality of the songwriting but the sense remains there is a nifty song underneath. But let’s dissect this record.
It starts off with lead single Hurricane which is a pretty standard, middle of the road, radio song. Sonically it does feel very familiar as the beginning is quite reminiscent of Hanging by a Moment and there are moments that provide flashbacks to Spin or All In. Not necessarily the most inspiring or impressive song on the album, but a classic record needs a good radio single to drive its commercial success. I’m not certain Hurricane is distinguishable enough to become a massive hit but it should do reasonably well with the proper promotion or maybe a strategic TV placement.
One For The Pain is an okay song but there isn’t much in it that really jumps out at you except for the phenomenal instrumental break at the end of the bridge which is killer. Just for that part, the song deserves its placement on the record. And then we move on to one of the most inspiring and impressive songs the band has released in a long time. Flight is a powerful, passionately performed anthem that aspires to great things and inspires to do so. Without a doubt we can state to have found our first highlight on Out of the Wasteland.
The disc continues with Runaways which is one of the misses on the album. The fault doesn’t lie in the songwriting as underneath everything going on in this song there is a proper song that could be much more than it is in its current incarnation. The start of the song really puts me off but once I get through that I can hear the song’s potential. Due to a weird vocal effect and a lack of fire, the song never evokes much emotion or breaks out of its chains. Either go full-blown over the top and speed up the tempo with a driving beat and get it to fire up everyone around you or strip it bare and focus on the emotional delivery. Personally, I feel this song could be much more than it is in its current shape.
Firing Squad has good lyrics and the pre-chorus has a strong delivery. The song has a current sound which should probably appeal to a radio audience. The song sadly still suffers from vocal effects which negate one of Lifehouse’s selling points: Jason Wade’s ability to connect to the listener through his vocal delivery. Oftentimes that is what draws you into a Lifehouse song at first. In this case, the songwriting keeps the song alive but again, there is much more potential to this song than is achieved.
Wish was originally written for Stanley Climbfall and the original version was released years ago. The new version is a little smoother and a string arrangement was added. While I love the string arrangement which gives the song much more body and warmth, I do miss the rough edges of the original. But I’m nitpicking here, it’s still a marvelous arrangement and a great song. Stardust feels out of place on Out of the Wasteland but knowing this isn’t originally a Lifehouse song but a KomoX song instead explains that feeling. Having said that, it’s a pretty cool track that is bound to become a live favorite due to its up-tempo nature, powerful chorus and sing-along qualities.
While the next song, Alien, isn’t necessarily revolutionary it does sound very current and contemporary. Something you can put on the radio right away. It could be appealing to fans of Ed Sheeran, The Script, etc. on one hand but it also has a very slight alternative edge that will likely keep the band’s original audience invested as well.
So far, the record is solid albeit a little inconsistent. Near the end, Lifehouse finds its stride and they sound as comfortable as they have ever before. I won’t go into too much detail when it comes to the production because a few minor tweaks here and there could make the following songs even better but there is no need to point that out repeatedly as these next few songs are too good to be restrained by those minor details.
Central Park is the perfect example of when the songwriting allows Jason Wade to bring out his vocals into the limelight, Lifehouse can shine at its brightest. The song is fueled by the powerful vocal delivery and the sheer honesty that gives the lyrics even more impact than they already have on their own. A true gem. Hurt This Way showcases the Americana influences this band has embraced throughout the years. Even vocally, Wade emulates a little of his inner Dylan that soars powerfully over the electric mandolin. This track is pure heartland rock in the manner Petty and Springsteen once designed it to be. And it also has a ton of live potential.
When it comes to pure honesty and believability, none of the songs on Out of the Wasteland can touch Yesterday’s Son. The production could be slightly more fortuitous but that shouldn’t distract of the sheer power and honesty that cuts right through you as Wade sings: “I’m not my mother or father / And I am not yesterday’s son / I’m not broken / I’m a wide open highway / With room to run”. The vocal harmonies are nice but the live in-studio performance of the song the band has released shows the song has the ability to become even more powerful. Both arrangements offer something differently though and both have a very strong appeal.
Perhaps the band saved the best for last. A collaboration with legendary composer James Newton Howard, Hourglass is a story in itself (which desperately needs an accompanying video). The cinematic, piano and strings-driven arrangement takes you on a voyage which asks real questions and evokes true emotions. It is very relatable and combines the best of Jason Wade’s songwriting skills with Howard’s intelligent choices and subtle accents in the arrangement. A combination that struck pure gold as all the pieces fall in the right places on this excellent album closer.
In the end we can conclude that Lifehouse has indeed climbed out of the wasteland. There may still be some muck clinging to their boots and it may take them a little time to shrug it off but throughout the album you can hear how the band is finding its comfort zone and its enthusiasm again. Their songs have purpose once more and the band reclaimed the joy in performing. It bodes well for the band’s future. The record is a little inconsistent (second half is much stronger than the first) and next time a little assistance in the producing (a little more balance and bringing out the strength of the songs) of the record would be welcome but with a bright smile on my face I can say: It’s good to have you back, Lifehouse!