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Sci Fi Crimes
Time: 11 tracks/43:23 min.
When I first heard Chevelle's new album was to be produced by someone other than Michael "Elvis" Baskette, I was admittedly nervous. I honestly don't know anything about Brian Virtue, the producer of Chevelle's fifth album Sci Fi Crimes scheduled to be released on August 31, 2009. Apparently he has good credentials having worked with Jane's Addiction, Deftones and 30 Seconds to Mars. It's just that I credited "Elvis" with being almost a fourth member of the band. "Elvis" did such a fantastic job drawing out the real powerful, punchy, passionate sound of Chevelle on This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) and Vena Sera that I was concerned that without "Elvis" the band just simply would not be able to maintain the same level of quality on their new album.
I was correct, to a certain extent. It would be absolutely unfair to call Sci Fi Crimes a bad album but you when you put out two incredibly good albums back-to-back like Chevelle did on releases three and four, you unfortunately set the bar quite high. Sci Fi Crimes is just simply not quite as good as This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) or Vena Sera.
It is difficult to explain what is missing or different. Sci Fi Crimes has the same passion, drive and through-provoking lyrics as their previous two albums. To a certain extent it is a heavier sounding album but it still has the lofty melodies Chevelle fans have come to expect. I don't know of a lead singer in a hard-rock/metal band that expresses vulnerability and rage and affliction as poignantly as Pete Loeffler. There are still a lot of the same trademarks that, to me, define the "Chevelle sound": tight balance between all three instruments, heavy bass, chest-pounding kick and harmonic, shifting chord-progressions on lead guitar. The combination of Pete's brooding voice layered with the rest of the instruments does reach the level of searing, beautiful intensity found on most of the songs on This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) or Vena Sera.
It's just not as often. That's probably the biggest difference. To put it another way, when I listen to "This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In)" or "Vena Sera" on CD while driving, there are at most only one or two songs on either album that I find myself skipping past. After listening to Sci Fi Crimes about five times, I found myself skipping past about four or five songs. They just didn't grow on my like most of the songs from the previous two albums.
Am I disappointed with Sci Fi Crimes? I suppose I am a little bit. But it is still, overall, a very good album. Chevelle is making their mark on modern rock and now with their fifth album, they are clearly a veteran band with staying power. I don't expect the guys to give this up any time soon and I definitely hope they do not. Every band/artist/musician has only so many songs in them. Chevelle has plenty more.
There are lingering mysteries for me with this band. Considering they are from Grayslake, Illinois, did they ever attend the early Cornerstone festivals? Is it true that they grew up in a Christian home? Were home-schooled? What happened to their relationship with Squint Records and Steve Taylor? Did that experience sour them to the Christian music business? Did they start out wanting to be a "Christian" rock act and later decide to turn away? Or did they never intend to follow that path in the first place? Would Cornerstone ever let them play? Would they want to? What is their relationship like these days with their brother Joe? I hope someday to get a chance to sit down and talk with these guys about these and many other questions.
By David Renovitch
The opening seconds of "Sleep Apnea", the lead-off for Chevelle's fifth full-length, let you know exactly what you're in for - a plethora of drop-tuned moody riff-rock, soaked in distortion and graced with frontman Pete Loeffler's throaty, teeth-clenched vocals. In that sense, there are no surprises on the curiously titled Sci-Fi Crimes (a concept largely relegated to the cover art). There are, however, some quality hard rockers...
"Sleep Apnea" is among the stand-outs, as is the snarly "Jars." "Letter from a Thief" is a bit ordinary in the verses, but the chorus sizzles with passion. Closer "This Circus" features the Chevelle rock machine firing on all cylinders. If some of the chugging rockers sound a little same-y, "Shameful Metaphors" and the stirring acoustic track "Highland's Apparition" nicely break up the potential monotony. The latter track showcases Loeffler's controlled-yet-gritty vocals; the man truly knows how to effectively use his voice on any given song. The aforementioned "Metaphors" may be the album's best track. It's almost a "ballad," but Chevelle-style. The chord changes are like nothing else on the album, serving to create a song both delicate and powerful. Lyrically, Loeffler continues to utilize Gavin Rossdale-like non-sequiters, cloaking any message or meaning in a layer of intriguing but vague wordplay.
Sci-Fi Crimes is the
work of professional musicians who know exactly what abilities they bring
to the table and what "sound" they want to present. The end result,
despite having some songs which blur into one another, is a remarkably
solid, consistent album. Chevelle have not re-invented the hard rock
wheel; that doesn't mean they can't build a hot rod around it. Best
listened to LOUD (and possibly while speeding).