There have been few inaugural full-length releases in the recent modern rock mire that could be considered anywhere near as “make or break” as Saosin’s self-titled Capitol Records debut. While it is largely indisputable that the band’s game-changing breakout EP, Translating the Name, was a high water mark in its own right, it had the benefit of making impressions without the complication of prior expectations and the proverbial “hype.” However, with the passage of time, the residual fame from that release has begun to wear thin after three long, empty years. A crappy (though supposedly wrongly-released) EP two years later did little to reinforce fence fans’ confidences, but a bevy of high-profile tours and festival appearances have kept the bottom from falling out on Saosin, despite the defection of one of the scene’s most prolific frontmen, and other lineup changes from the white EP’s revered roster.
So now, here we are. A shade over three years since Translating the Name, and a month from the shadowy release of the new LP. Amazingly enough, for a band that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, there is still a lot on Saosin that is either unknown or undecided. These comparisons are so tired and contrived after all these years, but alas, they are the only frame of reference that some of the group’s more casual (and lazy) listeners might relate to. In essence, what everyone will want to know with regards to this release can be answered in a sprinkling of well-worn questions. How does Cove stand up to Anthony as a vocalist? How does Alex compare to Pat on drums? Has the band lost its edge? How doesSaosin stack up to Translating the Name? And finally, the one that really matters – just how good is the record on its own?
Musically, the record cracks off with what is a faithful indicator of what we can expect from this “new,” revamped Saosin. “It’s Far Better to Learn” lines up technical, crunchy guitars on top of thunderous percussion, and when the chorus hits, it becomes evident that this Saosin is a more melodic, and perhaps even a borderline hooky band. The fact that these guys know how to write an exacting song is then elaborated upon and manifested on “Sleepers.” Now, I was in love with the demo of this song ever since it first surfaced on the interwebs, but the album version exhibits exactly the level of progression that I both expected and hoped for. The pace is set to a rapid clip that best suits the band, with a crashing opening torrent of thunderous instrumentation all on top of Cove’s fiery vocals. Simply put, at this point, only two tracks in, I realized I no longer missed Anthony Green. And that is saying a lot. Almost seeming to sense this sentiment and wanting to pound it home, “It’s So Simple” subsequently picks up, no time for respite. The track starts off with a mid-tempo verse jaunt that is pleasant enough, but the real treat kicks in alongside the hook, backlighting a Cove Reber that confidently hits the insanely high notes we have come to expect and adore from our Saosin frontmen.
As the album steers out of its introduction phase, we are reintroduced to “Voices,” which has been making waves and polarizing purists and pundits on all different sides of the fence. While it is largely an engaging track on the whole, it really excels in the details, such as the shimmering, meandering guitar line in the second verse and the face-melting, passionate, projected note that Reber belts out at the end with what seems to be a disarming level of ease. However, fret not if you are looking for cuts with a little more “oomph,” with the sick drum rolls and driving riffs of “Follow and Feel,” as well as “Come Close,” which once more features Cove bringing down the house on the chorus lead-in where he flexes every bit of his vocal muscle to leave absolutely no margin for criticism or disappointment. Likewise, “Collapse” is a well-balanced mélange of chugging guitars and a fist-pumping, gang vocal chorus that begs a sing-along. If you can turn the volume up and pass on belting out, “We are aware cause we’ve been through this!” then something is truly wrong with you.
It must be noted that for as strong as the large majority of this album is, not everything is entirely perfect. While “I’ve Never Wanted To” proves that Saosin is more than capable of slowing the pace to an atmospheric crawl while maintaining both appeal and integrity, the same cannot be stated for “Finding Home” and “You’re Not Alone” which seem to stumble in their misguided attempts at poignancy, and end up denting the overall continuity of the record. Additionally, it might come as no surprise to listeners that it is disgusting that this version of “Bury Your Head” was able to board the record as a stowaway. Label decision or not, after countless incarnations of this track that have done little to expand upon the original, this new version is a slowed, sludgy, and lackluster recreation of the track we could all do without re-exposure to. The fact that the band sounds bored and annoyed on the rerecording makes it that much harder to give a shred of merit to it.
Though it does indeed have its blemishes, outside of the “Bury Your Head” inclusion, to dwell on these would be like criticizing the mole on Cindy Crawford’s visage. They are all relatively trivial and do little to hurt the abundant list of brilliant, goosebump-inducing moments, and the staggeringly high standard established here. So, to answer the original questions, here we shall go. Vocally, Cove more than stands up to Anthony and even surpasses him at points. Sure as the sun rises though, people will bitch about the change, but for me, while I certainly respect and admire both vocalists, I believe that Cove’s more established lower range coupled with his high capabilities are better suited for the band’s current sound. Similarly, Alex does more than hold his own on the skins. It is no secret that Pat did a fantastic job on the EP, but if you can listen to some of the rolls on Saosinand not bet taken to the verge of breathlessness, get your ears checked. So, has the band lost its edge? Hell no. It can be argued that the new Saosin is a more subdued entity, but I view the band’s current work as a more controlled variety of chaos. Whereas TTN had a ton of wayward and unpredictable passion, the emotional explosions here are confined to the boundaries of that which benefits the songs, which makes this record a more focused, polished, and confident work. Finally, how is the album in its own right? In a word, Saosin’s self-titled debut is a triumph, and is easily one of the best records released so far this year. For all of the adversity stacked against this band and as high as everyone’s expectations are for this record, this release should handily shatter every last one of them.