Language. Sex. Violence. Other?
elly Jones holds a grudge—cross him in any which way and he’ll take revenge in the best manner he knows; through the power of music. When the press gave him a hard time for being an unimaginative, lumpen, over-masculine songwriter he came up with “Mr Writer,” a song so inept and impotent in its bitterness that it dizzyingly failed to scale the heights of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” or Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear. When drummer Stuart Cable demonstrated “commitment issues” (due to health problems) during a US tour in 2003 Kelly Jones sacked him and hired Argentinean sticksman Javier Weyler (after a brief rescue job by the guy from The Black Crowes). And now, on Language. Sex. Violence. Other?, his band’s fifth album, Kelly has seen fit to write a song about how a bouncer once threw him out of a club.
But when harnessed correctly, bitterness can be a fantastic motivator for achievement. Kelly Jones has obviously taken stock of his critics over the last two Stereophonics albums, both of which were lacking in the energy and directness that quickly propelled them to stadium gigs with their first two albums, and he’s found something that was missing from songs like “Have A Nice Day” and “Maybe Tomorrow.” Kelly’s initial response to his critics was to try and broaden his palette. But pandering to critics is never the way to win them over, especially if the music you try and pander to them with is not something that comes naturally to you.
And so Language. Sex. Violence. Other? in some ways is a step backwards towards their rockist, meat-and-potatoes roots, and in other ways is a quantum leap into the unknown. For some reason every song title here is composed of a single word, while the album’s title is cribbed from the warning flags on the back of a rental video, a half-assed, thoughtless simplicity that’s echoed in the likes of the balls-out AC/DC riff&bellow of “Doorman” (about the aforementioned nasty bouncer, and featuring a spectacularly banal set of lyrics) and the clumsy imagery of “Devil.” But as uncomplicated and lacking in surprises as things may be, they’re still hi-octane, and likely to delight fans who’ve been craving the hard-edged rock the band started out playing.
And when the surprises do come, well… “Dakota,” the band’s first number one UK single, is the best thing they’ve ever done and by quite some distance. Descended more from New Order than Aerosmith, it’s the first time Stereophonics have broken away from their signature sound with any success, an enervating and summery slice of electropop with gorgeously bendy Eno guitars over the chorus. Sure, it may revert almost to bombast on occasions and the lyrics may err on the side of dumb, but these minor sins can be forgiven in the face of the shimmering gaiety of the actual tune and production. That it’s followed by the reflective, delicate (for Stereophonics) “Rewind” suggests it’s not a total fluke either.
Elsewhere things are fast, furious and rocking. Kelly’s heroes try their hand at ill-advised but almost-nailed funk rock on “Brother” (which eschews the funk part of the equation totally for its terrace-chant chorus), Killers-esque dancefloor electrorock on opener “Superman,” while “Lolita” is another (pretty successful) sonic diversion into blissful electropop, and the likes of “Girl” offer more unreconstructed riffing and macho posturing for fans of their first two albums.
But there lies the problem. “If you already like [band X], you’ll probably like this” is one of the most redundant things a music journalist can write, but it’s about all I can conclude here. If you already hate Kelly Jones’ gravelled, testosterone bellow, if you think his songwriting is unimaginative, if you consider his lyrics clumsy, if you think his attitude is bad, if the tattooed martial arts-enthusiast bassist fails to inspire you, then Language. Sex. Violence. Other? (“Dakota” and “Lolita” excepted) probably isn’t going to change a damn thing. But if you’re one of the thousands of fans who loved the first two records but felt let down by the last two, it’s likely to win you back. Oh, to hell with it. Language. Sex. Violence. Other? is a very accomplished modern rock record that rocks. I won’t listen to it again after finishing this review.