Tenth Avenue North - The Struggle as Reviewed by The Phantom TollboothCan Donehey & Co.'s third effort top their daunting debut?

The Struggle
Artist: Tenth Avenue North
Reunion Records (Aug 21, 2012)
12 Tracks (47:17)

As strange as it might sound, the lads of Tenth Avenue North have never had a Number 20 hit. Or a Number 10 hit. Or even a Number 5 hit for that matter. Of course, as those who know the band best will be quick to point out, this is not to imply that the South Florida quartet have never managed to sail a song into the Top 20. On the contrary, it actually refers to the amazing fact that they have yet to see any single from their studio albums peak lower than one of the first four slots on the inspirational pop charts.

Listening to the first record, it's easy to see how they began this unlikely winning streak. That release, which spawned the wildly popular cuts "Love Is Here" and "By Your Side," was a textbook example of how to make a imposing artistic statement without sacrificing those elements which blend together to craft a great pop/rock tune. To their credit, the group, not content to merely toss out more of the same, went for a more ethereal, dynamically-varying tone on the follow-up. As admirable as this tack was, it worked only intermittently and the sophomore outing, although very commercially successful, ultimately took a back seat to its far more consistent predecessor.

The opening nine minutes of the new project give the distinct impression that front man Mike Donehey and his compatriots are still staunchly committed to breaking new musical ground. The opening track, "Shadows" ups the ante on the band's characteristic radio-ready pop fare, adding in a slightly edgier modern rock texture – think MercyMe covering U2 (or vice versa). The follow-on title cut eschews the easy, obvious hook for a more subdued, and mesmerizing, melody line that carries it from its near-hushed beginning, through a gradually-swelling midsection, all the way to the soaring chorus-propelled conclusion. Elsewhere, the lo-fi aesthetic and soulful, Train-like vocals of "Grace" render the charming composition one of the more funk-filled offerings in the band's catalog.

By and large, though, that which remains mostly replicates the chart-friendly lite pop/rock that lifted the first record to its rightful lofty perch. Of course, this approach is scarcely a bad thing, in and of itself. "Worn" (Let me see redemption win/ Let me know the struggle ends) finds the band still chronicling the inherent toil and longing of the human-to-God condition with refreshing insight and honesty. "Losing" (It doesn't feel right/ For me to turn a blind eye) applies that same lyrical depth to the theme of interpersonal difficulties. And "Don't Stop the Madness" and "Where Life Will Never Die," while hardly novel or pioneering in the musical sense, are still appealing, well-crafted pop pieces sure to please those in the existing fan base.

The main sticking point, though, is that, over the course of the second half of Struggle, the songs begin to lose a good bit of steam and ultimately wind up blending together in an overly like-sounding mass. That being said, even in spite of its flagging energy and overly homogenous latter portion, the latest release is still a more cohesive final product, taken as a whole, than the sophomore effort. Both albums pale, though, next to the far more solid freshman project, which still remains the TAN collective's most convincing artistic statement and, consequently, the best place for the uninitiated to begin their investigation of the band.

- Bert Gangl


{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}