It is not a well-kept secret that I was a bit enamored with Saosin’s debut LP. The timing of that record and the execution of it seemed damn near perfect at the time. The stars just kind of aligned for that release, and Saosin has been riding the wave ever since. And going back to listen to that self-titled gem now, I still stand by everything I said – the combination of soaring vocals, upper echelon musicianship, and flawless production made for a work deserving of its transcendence beyond the post-hardcore roots that spawned it. So here we are, three years later – has the band used its accomplishments and notoriety as a launchpad to create another killer record? Or is their sophomore effort a perfunctory exercise in simply going through the motions?
In Search of Solid Ground is, in a word, disappointing. Both on its own, and when compared to Saosin’s initial offering, their return falls short. The energy, tenacity, and overall brilliance that seemed to come so easily before now comes through in choked, wheezing clumps. And when those flourishes subside, listeners are once more left clinging to the mediocrity that plagues the majority of ISOSG.
Solid Ground starts off with a glimmer of promise, with “I Keep My Secrets Safe,” which would necessarily sound out of place on S/T. But besides Cove Reber’s shockingly adept screams in the track’s breakdown, the number is a bad omen for the rest of the volume. It follows a formula that will feel well-worn by album’s end – solid vocals, uninspired riffs, and a decent (yet largely unremarkable) chorus. “Deep Down” is sonically intriguing, but really more due to the track’s production than the song itself – an above average hook can’t absolve the tune from having no soul, and no bite. And by the time you reach “Why Can’t You See,” it is sad to say that letdowns become the norm, as the band digs itself into a rut with far too much restraint and an apparent disassociation from the art they should be pouring themselves into.
The lull lingers for a few other tired exercises until the group shows a little spark and edge with the kinetic “On My Own.” However, Saosin loses any karmic allowance with the lame mid-tempo “The Alarming Sound of a Still Small Voice” and “It’s All Over Now,” which is easily the cheesiest, worst song the band has ever penned and put to tape. One can only hope the latter was hatched from major label commercial machinations, because if not, it could be a dark harbinger of where these guys could be headed if given another chance.
It is a damn shame that Saosin followed up such a landmark debut with a blemished dud like In Search of Solid Ground. The overall work just sounds so incredibly forced and boring, it is hard to imagine it was any fun to make. And what might have been a consolation prize – the always stellar percussion of Alex Rodriguez – is pushed so far back in the mix or needlessly subdued, that A-Rod now has to be the most criminally underutilized drummer in the scene (if not all of rock). Outside of the stellar production, there aren’t really any high points that can salvage the record from its plan vanilla mire. Maybe the band is resting on its laurels and has gotten complacent, or bored, or even worse – maybe they have just lost it. I certainly hope this is not the case, but one-time fans aren’t going to forgive another pair of half-baked EPs and a live album that nobody wants before they are given proper correction for this lob. 2009 has taken Saosin from being one of the hottest bands in music to just another above-average radio-rock group. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2012 for reimbursement.