…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead Worlds Apart

[Interscope; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: indie rock, punk rock, post-punk rock opera, thrash
Others: At The Drive-In, Les Savy Fav, Explosions In The Sky, Sonic Youth

A lot of reviews seem to reach toward, rather than pull in the sounds of a given release. Many reviews of this album will probably reach for some characterization involving the glammy, anthemic pose-striking common to some of the disco-free regions of the late 1970s. That Conrad Keely might want to take a more direct, almost '60s-counterculture approach to his lyrics shouldn't bother us. It's whether or not he can sell that bullshit that's important. It's too bad that, without the bombast of previous releases, a refusal of clinical aesthetic distance becomes slack with a series of twitches and flinches. His decent high school poetry is our dismal fly in an otherwise melodically enticing ointment.

Trail of Dead has always been an impressive band. Okay, so that last EP was a little tepid. But I can safely say there's nothing as mind-numbingly bad as "Counting Off the Days" on Worlds Apart. But something's definitely amiss. However, I must argue that it is not (sorry mundanesounds.com) the sound of selling out. It's got some definite missteps, but there're still some exciting traces of the same blissfully majestic rock imagination they've always displayed. They never lacked that goofy Tolkien-esque lyrical and thematic (look at their album covers for crissakes!) auto-mythology that so many tireless Zeppelin fans successfully ignore in favor of the grandiose sensations the songs evoke. I'll just go ahead and say it: Nobody with good taste in music mostly or solely like Led Zeppelin for Robert Plant's vocals and lyrics. If even the most musically indifferent were to take a moment to think about it, they'd realize that Bonham and Page were the core of what made those songs cook.

Which brings me to one of the major problems with this record. Since he lacks the bombastic power as a vocalist that Plant possessed, singer Conrad Keely sounds considerably better when his vocals are more integrated (dare-I-say buried) in the mix. The band is still masterful in the studio. The songs have a Pink Floyd environment of ambient sounds, vocal snippets, and back-up singers. Admittedly all these flowery production choices can at times be quite seductive, despite the glaring mishandling of the vocals astride them. On "All White," the band begins to sound like Dark Side of the Moon via Elbow -- but don't let that scare you. "Relative Ways" showed the group's growing penchant for high, glammy drama, and they've unfortunately pushed that factor with an album that is experimental in the most middling sense of the word. It sounds as though they wanted something that killed as usual, but at the same time were determined to stretch their regal-fist-pump album rock format to its natural extremes (they experiment heavily with time signatures on this album).

The record contains some very "November Rain" plateaus of overly-sentimental rock anthem drivel. You can almost see Keely giddily conducting a choir with a drumstick in slow-motion in the goofy behind-the-scenes fashion of Poison's video for "I Won't Forget You." There are also some typically solid, infectious TOD melodies running through this release. And don't we all like our own Use Your Illusion songs? There's enough greatness to be found in moments (great instrumental interludes as usual), and the occasional good old Trail of Dead barnstormer ("Caterwaul") to forgive the occasional trite devices that sweeten the crescendo when it should be tempered. While it's not the biggest follow-up let down to come along, it's at least a candidate for the Damn With Faint Praise Award. We musn't forget that this group is young, with only four albums (two of them exceptional, while their debut was merely promising) under their belt. I'd like to think that the group will abandon some of the pomp (though not all of it, mind you -- that's part of what made Source Tags work) and experiment with their sound in a more indelible, heedlessly enveloping fashion.

1. Overture
2. Will You Smile Again
3. Worlds Apart
4. Summer '91
5. And the Rest Will Follow
6. Caterwaul
7. Classic Art Showcase
8. Let It Drive
9. Russia, My Homeland
10. All White
11. The Best
12. City of Refuge

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