By Sean K. | Music | July 29, 2009 |
By Sean K. | Music | July 29, 2009 |
Canadian rock band Billy Talent certainly has a formula, and no qualms about sticking to it. Billy Talent III (appropriately) follows Billy Talent and Billy Talent II in name, tone, style, and…well, pretty much everything. There’s simply no denying that the band’s music has not evolved one iota over their three records, meaning that for those receptive to Billy Talent’s sound, III will be perfectly serviceable aural entertainment. Having sacrificed a bit of their edge for a more standard radio-rock vibe, III feels like an attempt to broaden the band’s appeal. It probably won’t.
Billy Talent’s sound might be called unique. Rooted in punk rock both musically and thematically, they frequently transition between the some of the fuzziest, most heavily distorted power chords you can imagine and cleaner, high-register sounds, even occasionally utilizing a kind of call-and-response combination of the two. There’s quite a lot of strong, hooky basslines. The real distinguishing factor, though, is lead singer Ben Kowalewicz’s voice; think Raine Maida, but more nasal, and with his lungs full of helium. Like many vocalists of his ilk, he’s polarizing; people either like his voice or can’t fucking stand it. This is doubly true for Billy Talent because that voice is generally bashing the listener’s head in with heavy-handedness, regardless of subject matter.
The problem with Billy Talent III is not, however, with the band’s sound; their sound appeals to me. The problem is that it’s basically eleven songs that could have come from either of their first two albums, and (more so) that many of them could have been B-sides. The fast-paced aggressiveness of records past is much sparser here, and the lyrics (rebuking the same social and cultural ills as always) are as clumsy as they’ve ever been. Kowalewicz’s vocals are smoother and often lower and his screaming falsetto is almost completely gone; his frenetic style—such an integral part of Billy Talent’s appeal—has been sacrificed for a more universally accessible sound.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing on III worth hearing. Billy Talent has never purported to be ground-breaking, and have never shown a knack for subtlety; the previously lodged complaints don’t entirely damn the record. It’s just that for every worthwhile track, there’s another that you’d just as well skip. The album starts strongly enough (by borrowing riffs from older BT songs), as “Devil On My Shoulder,” “Rusted From the Rain” and “Saint Veronika” are all pretty effective. Past that, however, III quickly loses steam, as songs about drunk driving, the loss of a lover, women who marry for money and paranoia all either fail to excite or fall flat entirely. A second trio of songs pulls the back half of the record toward the positive side; “Diamond on a Landmine” is bouncy and listenable, “Turn Your Back” is upbeat and exciting if a bit preachy, and “The Dead Can’t Testify” is probably the highlight of the album. It’s got an evocative, marching beat, some ominous bells and a nice minor-key feel that all really click to pull the listener in to the tale.
Sadly, following “Turn Your Back,” the record stumbles to a close through two mediocre tracks.
Again: despite its many flaws, I won’t write Billy Talent III off completely. There’s enough passable material here to have warranted a few listens, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it for some of the highlights, if not for beginning-to-end sessions. Honestly, my biggest complaint with III is that nothing on it makes me want to sing. With II, songs like “Worker Bees” and “Fallen Leaves” often had me belting them out in the car. III, however, mostly keeps me nodding my head and thumbing the skip button. I only hope—now that their “Self-Titled Trilogy” is complete—that Billy Talent will move in a new direction. I’d find it difficult to work up much excitement for “Billy Talent IV.”
Billy Talent III is currently available almost everywhere in the world except the United States and Japan, where it will be released on September 22.