The songwriting just isn’t there this time around.
Silversun Pickups have always excelled at being bold and boisterous. Their best songs spiral out into explosive epics, led by Brian Aubert’s straight-from-the-soul howls. No one would call “Lazy Eye,” “Panic Switch” or “Nightlight” subtle. But the volume might be turned up too loud to hear any such complaints. It’s when the band downshifts that their songs fail to connect. Only Better Nature, possibly their best work yet, avoids this pitfall with the acoustics-and-synths call of “Pins & Needles” and the slow-dance groove of “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance).”
Unfortunately, the band’s new album, Widow’s Weeds, stalls out rather than continuing their ascent. Many tracks fall into mid-tempo background music that will leave your memory seconds after they end. A few amped-up songs keep their fifth record from being a complete wash, but those expecting another Better Nature or Carnavas will be disappointed. Even the addition of Butch Vig in the production booth can’t bring life or punch to these tunes.
But let’s start with the positives. Widow’s Weeds kicks off promisingly enough with “Neon Wound.” Its proggy clean guitar intro is an attention-grabber, and when the rhythm section kicks in, you can feel the tension in every note. “It Doesn’t Matter Why” keeps the taut, white-knuckled vibe going, with scratchy guitars and film score strings. The band probably could have built an entire song around the fleet-fingered acoustic riff that bubbles up on occasion. Using these cool tidbits as pieces of bigger arrangements would be less bothersome if much of the record didn’t call out so badly for some top-tier riffage.
In fact, after “Freakazoid,” the band stumbles and never really recovers. That song’s slow burn comes closest to the success of Better Nature, where low-key tracks simmer rather than boil over. But when other numbers try for something similar, they evaporate. The title track is a lame mid-‘90s ballad, with syrupy strings over California guitar chords that occasionally kick the distorted pedal. “Bag of Bones” and “Simpatico” don’t have any solid hooks or musical cues to latch onto, each of their five-minute lengths feeling much longer.
Even when Silversun Pickups throw in some intriguing elements, the broader song often fails to capitalize on those moments. “Don’t Know Yet” has a cool finger snap melody and stomping chorus. But it’s got a real short half-life, its appeal dropping rapidly with every subsequent play. “Straw Man” wastes a refreshing, folky and mournful string arrangement by devolving into generic guitar crunches and slides. Rather than leading to something grander, those opening strings feel like they were stitched on awkwardly.
Towards the end of the record, the band regains its footing for a bit. “Songbirds” succeeds on the back of Nikki Monninger’s prowling, pouncing bass line. Closing track, “We Are Chameleons,” is a grungy monster, made to be played loud enough to shake the walls. It’s the only song where you really feel Vig’s impact, helping every chord played, drum hit and note sung to come through powerfully.
There are some songs on Widow’s Weeds that are worthy additions to Silversun Pickups’ catalog, but more often than not, the tunes fail to make much of an impact. The songwriting just isn’t there this time around. This is a group that prides itself on writing powerful epics meant to be screamed by fans at the top of their lungs. Unfortunately, there’s not much to shout about here.