Even if you don’t think you know Stereophonics, you would want to have been hiding under one hell of a rock to not be at least familiar with one of their many classic songs. That song Dakota that you listen to on your road trip? Stereophonics. That song you listen when you unwind in your garden with your mates on a hot summer day? Have A Nice Day, by none other than Stereophonics. They are a band who knows how to write songs that will appeal to the zeitgeist, yet somehow have them endure for much longer than a moment in time.
But that was then. They now seem to be at that inevitable creative crossroads, where many musicians have soul searched. 2013’s ‘Graffiti On The Train’ represented one route; one that saw them create some of the freshest and most exciting music of their career. ‘Keep The Village Alive’, however, represents the route that fears innovation and relishes banality.
After such raw and bold creative output from its predecessor, ‘Keep The Village Alive’ just feels deflated. That’s not to say that all of the songs are bad, per se, but many of them represent Stereophonics at their most mediocre. At a minimum, the songs are fine, but the band should aim higher.
Lead single C’est La Vie is fun pop rocker á la Bartender and The Thief. It’s an unrestrained anthem about the free spirit of youth and to be fair, it is not without its charm. The follow up, White Lies, begins with a basic four-chord trick on piano but doesn’t really take the listener anywhere exciting. Sing Little Sister wanders dangerously close to Nickelback territory, with a funk-rock riff and a lyrical wasteland dolled up with a catchy melody. Once again, simply not worthy of a band of their quality.
Further space is filled until one of the more interesting moments on the album, Fight or Flight. This recaptures some of the urgency and intensity that characterized their previous effort in 2013. It’s raw, edgy and a treat for those looking for what could potentially be the modern day Stereophonics. Its orchestral dynamics and rising tension give the band a jolt of life and temporarily allows the listener to forget the prosaic music that led them there.
The same can be said of Sunny, another beacon of hope in an otherwise mundane musical experience. To be sure, there are enough songs here to suggest that there is potential that is simply not being realized elsewhere on the album. It is frustrating to hear such quality smothered underneath the weight of the humdrum. Ancient Rome and Let Me In, for example, are bonus tracks that really should have been on the album. Why? Because they’re powerful, energetic and pack a punch. The same cannot be said of other tracks that made it onto the album.