Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Album Review: Coheed and Cambria - The Color Before The Sun

There are lots of reasons, both good and bad, to either get into or avoid a band. They aren't always the most logical of reasons, but music isn't always a logical enterprise. Over the years, I've heard the singles that Coheed and Cambria have put out, and I've enjoyed several of them. But given the fact that everything they've recorded so far has fallen under the singular banner of 'The Amory Wars', a multi-album conceptual piece I have no interest at all in unfurling, I never bothered to dig deeper and give any of their albums a listen. I have my limits, and deciphering multiple albums of a sci-fi story is not high on my list of priorities. But when it was announced that this new album was going to be their first non-conceptual piece, I was intrigued. And when I heard "Here To Mars", I was definitely hooked into giving this album a try.

We start off with "Island", which is going to lead me to say something that will get me in trouble. After the semi-prog opening chords, the core of the song actually reminds me a lot of late 90s pop/punk. Let me stop for a second to say that I don't at all mean that as a pejorative insult. It's actually supposed to be a compliment, in that the song reminds me of when rock music could be both propulsive and poppy, which is contrary to everything that exists these days. The melodies are catchy, the guitars sound appropriately big, and the bridge with the ethereal backing vocals works as a beautiful pause to break it all up. It's a great opening number.

"Eraser" is a heavier number, with guitars that try to bring back the darkness of the grunge era, but the whole song is a bit of a tease, because not only does the melody stay firmly in Coheed's wheelhouse, but the falsetto bursts that lead into each verse are, at least to me, a blistering takedown of the soft dance aesthetic that guitar music in the pop mainstream has developed.

"Here To Mars" was the first track from the album I heard, and it remains my favorite. It's such a perfectly executed pop/rock song that it actually makes me sad, since I'm old enough to remember when that song not only would have been a massive hit, but when songs of that kind were all over the radio. Claudio's hook is incessant, and I can't resist singing along in my head to it. I can't imagine that it won't become a live favorite.

On the complete other end of the spectrum is "Ghost", which is largely comprised of nothing but Claudio's vocals and an acoustic guitar. It's a gentle, tender song, one that manages to keep its melodic sense despite being slower and softer. It serves as a needed bridge between "Here To Mars" and "Atlas", two of the biggest, hookiest rockers on the album. As good as they are, and they're pretty darn great, I'd almost say an entire album in that mold would be too much of a good thing.

We get a couple more really good tracks in "Young Love" and "You Got Spirit, Kid", before reaching the one song that doesn't do much for me, "The Audience". That song leans a bit heavier, with some prog sensibility, but it falls flat because the melody gets tempered down and matched to the rhythm of the song. It loses the flair the band usually has, and while there is a chorus section with a solid melody, it takes too long to arrive, and I'm not sure the song fully recovers from the wait.

But that's a minor gripe. Putting aside those two minutes of music, what we have here is an album that does almost everything right. "The Color Before The Sun" is one of those warm albums that revels in feel-good melodies. Maybe it won't be looked at in the same light without a bigger concept holding it together, but I don't care about such things. All I know is that Coheed and Cambria write richly melodic rock music, and "The Color Before The Sun" is a great record for people who just want to sit back and listen to some pop-tinged rock. I'm one of them, so "The Color Before The Sun" is a strong contender to be one of the ten best records of the year.

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