Secret Meeting score: 70
by Chris Hatch
Silversun Pickups released Widow’s Weeds on Friday – their fifth studio album to date, and second on their own label, New Machine Recordings.
Comparisons to The Smashing Pumpkins have always been rife when it comes to Silversun Pickups, and the band did little to distance themselves from this when they announced that Butch Vig (who produced pretty much every seminal band of the 90s US scene, as well The Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream album) would take the reins for recording sessions.
The Silversun Pickups MTV-generation, trademark sound is immediately evident. Guitar-led alternative rock songs are propped up by a taut rhythm section that propels the tracks urgently from A to B. But it is this direct route that can often be frustrating – in a career that has lasted nigh on fifteen years, the band have stuck to largely the same formula. The opening four or five songs are good, solid tracks, performed by a tight group of musicians, but they follow a well-trodden path – indeed the first half of the album is crying out for a shift in song structure, pace, and a shot of inventiveness.
It would seem that given Silversun Pickups strong ties to the late-90s alternative sound, the appointment of Vig would have been a match made in heaven, and in a lot of ways it is. The production throughout the album is flawless – polished, while still keeping some of the band’s rawness in the heavier moments. However, the production is largely ‘safe’ and the band almost seem tethered by the style of previous albums, something which is all the more frustrating given that they have creative license to do as they please, considering that the record has been released on their own label.
The second half of the album starts in brighter form: Bag Of Bones, and title track, Widow’s Weeds, are two brilliantly written songs that convey the feeling of finding a glimmer of hope in a helpless situation. The acoustic guitars sparkle in the gentler moments, which lends the rockier moments more weight, and gives the songs a much more accomplished and rounded feel.
In summary, the album does grow over time, and the Silversun Pickups’ have a knack for a melody that only catches you after the third or fourth listen – burying itself into your brain. But the album also polarises in so many ways – if you have your dream producer, should you then start to experiment? If you have perfected a certain sound, should you risk changing it? If you have built loyal fan base, do you owe it to them to give them exactly what they expect? These are all questions that have valid arguments either way, and unless the band really stretch themselves creatively we won’t ever really know what the answers are.