Our Lady Peace | Burn Burn (Coalition Entertainment)

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olpburnburn.jpgI point out the catchiness of "Dreamland" because it's the one element of classic OLP that is sorely missing on the rest of Burn Burn.

 

 

Our Lady Peace was always one of the more interesting bands to emerge from the post-grunge era. The Canadian quartet was clearly working the same idiom as a lot of bands to follow in Nirvana's wake, but with a set of quirks all their own, not the least of which was singer Raine Maida's voice, an unmistakable wail that popped and cracked across the radio on hits like "Starseed" and "Superman's Dead." The rest of the band shared a unique musicality as well, particularly the rhythm section, where drummer Jeremy Taggart's striking counter-rhythms and Duncan Coutts' smooth, jazz-flavored basslines never played anything simply or straight-ahead. The band peaked with 2001's Spiritual Machines, a concept album based on the work of futurist Ray Kurzweil that saw Maida and guitarist Mike Turner taking the band into a land of Radiohead-esque paranoia without losing the band's trademark melodicism or rock muscle.

After Spiritual Machines, the band seemed to flounder for a new direction. The band traded founding member Turner and life-long producer Arnold Lanni for new guitarist Steve Mazur and uber-producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Mötley Crüe) for 2002's Gravity. The band also traded their trademark sound in the process, crafting an album of calculated radio rock and U2-esque anthems that had muscle but little originality or bite, though a few songs (notably "Innocent") rose above the rest. Their follow-up, Healthy in Paranoid Times, famously took 1165 days and 10 studios to record, and nearly destroyed the group in the process. Despite the labor pains, the album was a spectacular return to form, a mixture of the old OLP with their new Bono-esque ambitions that featured some of their finest songs to date ("Angels/Losing/Sleep" and "Will the Future Blame Us," to name two).

Then: nothing. Taking even longer to follow-up Paranoid Times than they did to create it, Burn Burn follows a four-year break for the band. Much like Maida's 2007 solo album The Hunter's Lullaby, it was crafted solely by the band, with no record label interference or outside producers. Given the wide gamut of genres Maida covered on Lullaby, you might expect Burn Burn to be a similar artistic statement, an ambitious display of the band's talent and versatility without the interference of a single-hungry record label.

And that's where you'd be wrong. Burn Burn is hardly an ambitious album, or a violent move into a new artistic direction. Opener "All You Did Was Save My Life" is cut from the same cloth as much of the material from Gravity or Paranoid Times, an up-tempo rock track with U2-ish chiming guitars and a big, anthemic chorus. It's a very OLP-ish song and, naturally, the album's first single, but it comes off as uninspired, like a band trying to write a radio single rather than write music they feel passionately about. The second track, "Dreamland," follows in a similar vein but succeeds a bit more, thanks to a catchier, more explosive chorus.

I point out the catchiness of "Dreamland" because it's the one element of classic OLP that is sorely missing on the rest of Burn Burn. These songs just flat out are not memorable. Outside of the first two tracks, there is nothing that sticks with you, not a single hook that lingers in the back of your brain the way "Superman's Dead" or "One Man Army" or "Life" or "Automatic Flowers" or any of countless other songs in the band's catalog did.

Instead, the band seems content to just slide into autopilot with generic U2-isms like "The End Is Where We Begin," which comes damn close to lifting the intro to "Where the Streets Have No Name" wholesale. The band sounds muzzled musically, particularly Taggart, whose playing lacks the personality that makes his playing on other records so easily identifiable. They aren't helped by the production, either: all the background vocals are horribly recorded, sounding muffled and distant. It robs the parts clearly meant to be singalongs of any sense of immediacy, making the chanted "Escape Artist" and the more rocking "White Flags" both land with a dull thud.

For every complaint I had about this record, there's evidence that it could have been overcome. The band lets loose on the careening "Monkey Brains," with Mazur letting his guitar squeal over Coutts' machine gun fire bass. The background vocal problem is completely absent on "Signs of Life" (a pleasant though very un-OLP-like mid-tempo acoustic song akin to Guster), thanks to a guest spot by singer Eladio Reyes.

Yet both those songs fail to alleviate Burn Burn from its biggest problem: that despite its long gestation period and occasional bits of quality, it feels very tossed off, generic, and uninspired. And unlike any other record in the OLP catalog—and it pains me, as a longtime fan of the band to say this—it's boring. It's a bear to listen to from beginning to end because so much of it coasts by without making any impression whatsoever. About the only wholly positive thing I can say about listening to this record is that it's driven me to dig out all of my old OLP CDs and remember just why I loved the band so much in the first place. D+ | Jason Green

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