Rating:Filter have never really lived up to the promise of their first record Short Bus. Certainly the records which followed had their own merits, but Short Bus had something special — the single “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” There’s no shame in making a fantastic single which has an unusually broad appeal to mainstream music fans — especially at a time when Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were still relegated to the then-damning category of “alternative music.” Having introduced themselves so successfully, they made the brilliant move of crashing down any remaining barriers with “Take a Picture” from Title of Record. For fans of either or both of those singles, The Sun Comes Out Tonight is a welcome recreation of Filter’s most popular work.
The electro-rock begins immediately on the opening bars of “We Hate It When You Get What You Want.” An unabashedly simple guitar sample, muted bass kick and hi-hat are a timid contrast to Richard Patrick’s unmistakably searing rasp. He lets the listener know this record is going back to the original pissed off basics when the song unleashes after a few bars with lines like, “Sit yourself down/ Sit yourself down, motherfucker!” All the elements of Short Bus are immediately identifiable — from the heavy use of layered distortion effects to incredibly catchy hooks that tap into the most visceral teenage angst. This is more than simply the sound of Filter, it’s the sound of Filter as they began six records ago. More recent records have seen them experiment in trying to find an identity among rock and metal fans and while somewhat consistent in quality, they never quite nailed their former glory. “What Do You Say” nails it completely despite the disappointingly unironic refrain, “Hey, hey, what do you say!” The sound of the impossibly overdriven guitar is powerful enough to allow the skeptics to momentarily forget how jaded they may have become.
The question of whether or not this record has any greater goals than appealing to the original fans is answered on “Surprise” and “Watch the Sun Come Out Tonight.” The former begins with the same organic guitar strum that formed the basis for their break-out radio hit “Take a Picture,” but what comes completely unexpected is the ‘80s era keys which walk up the scale in answer to the refrain. “Surprise, surprise for you/ No lies, just eyes for you/ Teach me all that you know/ So that I will bask in your glow.” Whether this is a love song or a gospel song (ambiguity which may well be intentional), it has all of the elements of a radio hit waiting to happen. “Watch the Sun Come Out Tonight” succeeds quite remarkably in mixing trance-like synths in the background with Patrick’s vocoded chorus over the signature heavy riffage. It’s something that is hard enough to attempt on paper, but Filter balances anthem and anger with precision.
“It’s Got to Be Right” simply does it all over again — the deep grungy bass, the unstoppable guitar riffs. If you removed the vocal melody you’d be hard pressed to differentiate it from the other tracks on the record, but it’s exactly that element that makes these songs ear worms. Even played in a different order they might have a completely different appeal, but presented as a mix of hard and soft, metal and pop, this record is ripe for repeat listens.
“Self Inflicted” is “Hey Man, Nice Shot” but instead of “Hey man, nice shot!” Patrick is screaming out, “Hey!/ Now who’s listening?!/ That’s what I thought!” If the similarities seem somewhat on the nose, it seems very intentional and may redeem them with fans whose interest might have waned in recent years. Sometimes a back to basics approach is the best option — particularly when your basics shake the walls.
“First You Break It” is the most bubble-gum track on the record and seems to go a step further than even “Take a Picture” did into the radio friendly world. Patrick even abandons the rasp on this track in favor of a smooth, almost parental condescension. It’s easily forgotten, however, as “Burn It” and “Take That Knife Out of My Back” unleash the betrayal rage once again.
The record closes on “It’s Just You,” an irresistibly straightforward pop ballad. It acts as a sort of summary on the listening experience so far, wrapping it all up on a relaxing but upbeat note. A solid record through to the end, if it doesn’t put Filter on the map for new audiences, then at least existing fans will be reminded to dust off their entire collection again. With electronic music being presently dominated by various sub-genres of dance music and a new Nine Inch Nails release right on the horizon, the time is right to remind people that the genre is free to rock again.