Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Curious Case of the Stereophonics

A few years ago, back in the halcyon days of pure, unadulterated Napster, frustrated by the dearth of great rock ‘n roll made – or made known – in America, I discovered and became enamored with a Welsh band called the Stereophonics, who were – and remain – platinum-selling, stadium-filling superstars in Great Britain, yet virtually unknown in the United States.

My first exposure was to their second album -- Performance and Cocktails -- which I thought was great; not quite genius, but highly charged, hook laden rock 'n roll. I then explored their debut album -- Word Gets Around -- and found it to be just as good if not better than the second, with what still remain my two favorite Stereophonics songs: A Thousand Trees and Local Boy In The Photograph.

Those albums quickly became two of my favorites and I championed the band & introduced their music to anyone who might care. And I looked forward to each of their three subsequent albums in anticipation of not only more personally enjoyable music, but perhaps even tunes that would bring the stateside success that their first two albums warranted, but failed to capture.

But on both counts, five years and three albums later, I'm still waiting.

I won't go so far to call the three albums -- including the just released "Language.Sex.Violence.Other?" (instantly #1 in England but unworthy of the New Releases rack at Best Buy) -- awful. Through familiarity, live performances and appreciation of band leader Kelly Jones' ongoing attempt to find a new songwriting voice, I can find some merit in the material. And some of it has actually caught the fancy of acquaintances and U.S. critics.

But compared to the quality (and promise) of the first two albums, I have found all three of the most recent albums to be terribly dull and disappointing. If any of the three served as my introduction to the Stereophonics I doubt I would have been much smitten, and I really can't fully champion this band to others given their recent output.

Still, I plan to see the 'Phonics when they come to the Metro on May 9 -- just as one more example of their UK/US disparity: last summer, they headlined one day of the Isle of Wight Festival; the other two days were headlined by David Bowie and The Who --
and if anyone out there wants me to put together a Stereophonics compilation, I gladly will. Just don't expect more than 6 of the 20 or so songs to come from the last 3 albums.


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