Contrasting the band’s first two albums (Youth & Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak) with their last two (Only by the Night and Come Around Sundown) is like comparing the Rolling Stones to One Direction. Where there used to be cunning bite, there is now mawkish arena rock, and not even the good kind. The “Southern Strokes” are now the “Southern Coldplay,” for better or worse (correct answer: worse).
When “Super Soaker” — Mechanical Bull’s lead single — dropped, it elicited strong reactions from KoL traditionalists with calls of a “return to form,” and with reason. The song ditches the schmaltz of their last two records in favor of the rugged countrified-pop sound of their early material. It’s a shame that the rest of Mechanical Bull fails to live up to its promise.
The album ranges from solid, if unspectacular hook-driven alternative (“Temple,” “Rock City”) to vomit-inducing butt-rock (“Don’t Matter”). Meanwhile, “Beautiful War” finds the band in full-on U2 mode; it’s slow-burning and pretty — a fairly inoffensive, yet somewhat ordinary power ballad. But then you have “Family Tree,” one of the most dreadful and insulting songs of the year. Figures.
That said, Mechanical Bull is not a terrible record. Honestly, with this current stadium-ready arrangement, it’s about as good as you’re going to get. Yet whenever you have a band trying to be something it is not, mediocrity becomes the apex. And those seeking anything more will be left grasping at straws. —Zach Hale