In the conversation of early ‘90s grunge and post-grunge bands, Candlebox is a name that comes up a bit under the surface: They don’t usually show up on the household name level of Nirvana and Alice In Chains but if you dig a touch deeper you’ll hear about them a fair bit from devoted grungers. It’s been a tumultuous ride since they popped up in 1993, from having a multi-platinum debut and a gold sophomore album to falling out with their label and going on a ten-year hiatus, then coming back and bouncing from label to label on the next few albums. After shuffling their lineup and settling in with Pavement Entertainment things seem a little more settled; now after 5 years we get Wolves, their follow-up to 2016’s Disappearing in Airports.
Judging by the opener “All Down Hill From Here”, it’s safe to say that Candlebox hasn’t only preserved their swagger but refined it over the years. Between “Down Hill” and “Let Me Down Easy”, Candlebox comes in with a whack of attitude, balancing their grungy roots off with bluesy grit and subtle contemporary elements. “Riptide” is more of a throwback to the earlier years of the band, as is the swirl of timeless alt-rock texture “Sunshine”. “My Weakness” offers up a poppier, bordering-on-indie departure from Candlebox’s standard M.O, followed by the room-filling “We” and “Nothing Left to Lose”, best described as Foo Fighters with a bit more grime. Next there’s the road song “Lost Angeline” and the Kings Of Leon/U2 hybrid (hear it and you’ll get it) “Trip”; from there we get a circle back to the front of the album with “Don’t Count Me Out” then a slick closer with “Criminals”, opting to go out rocking in a foul swoop of fiery finesse rather than slink away meekly like many album-enders do.
Candlebox may not release records all that often (at least by today’s consumer-demand standards) but nobody can accuse them of falling off or losing their touch. Wolves is a clear demonstration of how much sonic expansion the band has done since the days of “Far Behind”, far transcending grungehood and effectively wearing a bunch of different jackets that fit and coordinate with the rest of their getup. They’ve cultivated impressive versatility that keeps this record fresh and interesting at every turn, leaving more than a listener (and critic) or two wondering how to categorize them at this point. If no specific genre label suffices, at least we know we can call it good music overall and leave everything else up to interpretation.