Those old enough to remember the 2000s, as unbelievable as that statement sounds will recall the name Theory Of A Deadman among the hordes of many post-grunge bands of the era that dominated the airwaves and were often derided at the same time. “Santa Monica”, “Bad Girlfriend” and “Make Up Your Mind” are a few of just a few notable singles from that period, with the band’s 2008 album Scars And Souvenirs remaining their most successful and hit-heavy record to date. Since then they’ve travelled into poppier territory, and at the same time more conscious territory, starting with the single “Rx (Medicate)” off Wake Up Call addressing prescription drug abuse.
Those progressions manifest into full form on their latest album, Say Nothing. Sonically the album is in sharp contrast to their previous material, and lyrically as the title misleadingly implies it’s about saying something about everything- lord knows there’s been plenty to talk about since Wake Up Call dropped in 2017. In a refreshing contrast for a band of their ilk, the commonplace anger and disillusionment is turned outward instead of in, speaking on a surrounding reality that has become impossible to ignore. Lead singer Tyler Connolly has said as much about the album in interviews.
Immediately it’s clear this is not the same Theory of 2005, let alone 2015. “Black Hole In Your Heart” opens with a full string ensemble laid over pounding arena drums, the other stringed instruments taking a seat in the background that nevertheless contributes to their experimental bent. “History Of Violence”, a tragic tale of a woman killing her abusive husband and finding salvation out of the act is the first glance of Theory’s thematic switch to society over self, taking a more austere direction than even the first track would indicate. “Affluenza” turns back inward a bit with Connolly recollecting his poor upbringing in the context of society’s fixation with wealth, striking a far poppier chord while continuing to establish the central formula of the album.
One thing worth pointing out for criticism thus far besides some songs teetering on the repetitive is a dependence on profanity to make a point. The first four songs contain the word “fuck” in some context or another, varying from perfectly suitable in “History”: “I’m just gonna point it at his fuckin’ face” to the not totally necessary and kind of try-hard on “Black Hole”: “So fuck profanity, man I hate your vanity”. “Say Nothing”, the closest to Top 40 pop Theory has got thus far is no exception: “I fucked it up and everything’s my fault”, while the next track “Strangers” breaks the cycle. Coincidental, seeing as though its subject matter, the polarizing and atomizing of society along political lines and the like and the need to come together would be something that would theoretically warrant cursing more than some of the other themes explored before. City And Colour happened to release a track some months ago on the exact same topic with the exact same name, funnily enough.
“Ted Bundy” sounds more like Imagine Deadman at first, and showcases more of the Sgt. Pepper-inspired diversifying of Theory’s sound, from a blaring horn section to Connolly’s newfound piano skills. Whereas “Ted Bundy” is one of the brighter numbers the record has to offer, cycling back to some of their old relationship-based themes, “World Keeps Spinning” jumps back into the somber, dealing with the insanity of the world and the turmoil of one’s personal world at the same time. “Quicksand” starts with a mournful soul chorus and tells the tale, similar to “History” of a young girl getting sucked into the life of the streets with no clear way out. It’s clear with the last few tracks that while Theory is doing their best to steer in a more world-aware direction, they haven’t totally given up their original approach that brought them fame, and frankly nor should they. Just enough for the fans, perhaps.
“White Boy” is the one track on the album tied into a single, identifiable event: The great Charlottesville snafu of 2017, particularly the infamous incident involving James Alex Fields, a car and a crowd of protestors. A thing of note about the more conscious songs on the record is that that they tend to sound the most resemblant of each other while the ones about other subjects are more unique: similarity has its place to a degree, but there is a thin line crossed where it can hamper rather than help- especially when the artist is attempting to make a point about something significant. In contrast, “It’s All Good” borders on pop country and details a wild weekend of drinking, fighting and other assorted adventures. Going from tackling the alt-right to tackling a pack of Budweisers is a hell of a jump, but perhaps the point is that no matter how out of control the world might seem, there’s still hope, joy and moments worth savouring. An optimistic note to end on if nothing else.
Theory Of A Deadman, or simply Theory as they may be calling themselves now should be commended for starting fresh and trying something new- a new sound, a new perspective, a new several different things. However, they didn’t stick the landing perfectly by any stretch and have a number of kinks to work out; whether it be sonic similarity, using curses as a crutch or more sophisticated lyricism. These sorts of imperfections are often part and parcel of trying to shed your old skin as an artist and fly into the unfamiliar, so a bit of leeway has to be granted. Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see what Theory does from here, whether they revert back to their old sound or continue down this new conscious path in a more polished and improved manner. It may just depend on which way the world turns a few years down the road.