Thursday, March 1, 2018

Album Review: Stone Broken - Ain't Always Easy

Let's be honest about something here; mainstream rock has been boring for a long time. I don't mean in potential, as I have found numerous bands bubbling well under the radar who are doing great things with the guitars + melodies format. But in the mainstream, where the music can actually have hope of getting played and getting exposure, there hasn't been an interesting band to come along in ages. We get the same flaccid sound being recycled by ten bands a week, plus the old guard who are no longer making music that lives up to their own standards (hello, Foo Fighters). So when faced with a new mainstream rock album to look at, I have to admit that my hopes are rarely set very high.

If you were expecting anything other than the usual from Stone Broken, you would be disappointed. "Ain't Always Easy" is an album that fits right into the groove that bands like Nickelback established more than a decade ago, never daring to do anything to differentiate themselves. The thick and dark guitar tone is the same one used by nearly every band, and is one of the things I like least about the current trends. It's an anonymous tone, one that tries to sound heavy, but has no bite whatsoever.

Combined with the vocals, Stone Broken could pass for any other band of this style. The only thing that separates any of them are the actual songs, which doesn't help in this case, because most of this record travels the same terrain melodically as well. Some of these songs sound familiar on first listen, because they are so similar to what we've all heard before. Whether it's a Nickelback song here, or a Daughtry song there, I made it through this entire album without feeling like I know who Stone Broken are. All I can say about them is they listen to a lot of radio rock.

That doesn't mean everything is terrible. "Home" sounds quite a bit like the first two (and really good) Daughtry albums, including a shared title from one of those songs. I think what works about it is that it's the one song that dials down the rock conventions, adds in some acoustic guitar texture, and sounds more sincere than the heavier material. That track I like quite a bit.

The rest of the album is more hit and miss. There are some moments, like in "Follow Me" and "I Believe", where the old formula proves to work. But there are plenty of others where it sounds like all Stone Broken is doing is recycling what they grew up listening to. That's not to say anything is bad, because it isn't. Everything here is perfectly acceptable mainstream rock, as it stands, that would fit right in on the airwaves. To that end, the album achieves what it sets out to do.

"Ain't Always Easy" is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road rock record, which is why it will succeed. This is the kind of rock music that will get spins on the radio, and maybe get a placement or two in a movie or commercial. For their careers, this album will do exactly what they want it to. For me, it's too much of what I've already grown tired of from everyone else to say I'm going to want to listen to this when I'm not being prompted towards it. Stone Broken is good at this style, but it's not what I'm looking for right now. That's not a knock on them, it's just reality.

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