The Sounds have often been referred to as a “party band,” perhaps unjustly so. Tracks from the band’s first two albums, Living in America and Dying To Say This To You, wouldn’t sound out of place at a regular college kegger, but the band’s third album, Crossing the Rubicon, veered about as far away from party music as new wave can get, choosing to tackle topics such as nostalgia, scandal, and abusive relationships instead of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

The Sounds’ fourth album, Something To Die For, returns to party-readiness, but to call it a regression would be inaccurate. True, the lyrics don’t dig as deep as on their previous effort, but the band’s sound has continued to evolve, incorporating even more electronics and programming. This is no frat party record; Something To Die For is at least partly built for the dance floor.

The Sounds moved Jesper Anderberg’s kebyoards to the foreground in many of the album’s tracks. “Dance with the Devil” and the title track are largely synth-driven, forming a wall of sound in the latter’s chorus. On lead track “It’s So Easy,” the guitars seem almost like an afterthought, conjuring images of European nightclubs. The goal here seems to be not to get listeners to rock out and headbang, but to get up and dance. Heck, “Dance with the Devil” spells it out: “Together we conquer our planet with DANCE!” (Yes, the word “DANCE” is printed in all caps in the liner notes.)

However, Something To Die For also boasts its fair share of rockers. “The No No Song” is basically a “Dorchester Hotel” rewrite, and “Diana” wouldn’t sound out of place on Dying To Say This To You. In fact, Something To Die For has somewhat of a split personality, half club anthems, half lively mid-tempo rockers. (The latter type of song calls to mind Crossing the Rubicon but with more warmth.) Unfortunately, this duality feels a bit awkward, almost as if The Sounds couldn’t decide what kind of album they wanted to make, like they knew they could shake their booties or rock out, but couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the two.

It might be tempting to characterize the danceability of half of this album as a stab at commercialism, but I don’t agree with that assessment. Firstly, the record was self-produced. Moreover, the two singles, “Better Off Dead” and “Something To Die For” are two of the least radio-friendly tracks on the album. The increased use of synthesizers seems to be entirely internally motivated. It’s a natural evolution for the band, but it’s tempered by the record’s other half. The Sounds want to evolve; they just don’t know in what direction they want that evolution to occur. Coupled with lyrics that deal with subject matter tackled on their first two albums, they end up sounding like a young band cutting a sophomore record instead of a veteran band on their fourth.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like a young band would, The Sounds sound as if they’re bursting with potential. Something To Die For boasts some truly impressive tracks. “The No No Song” and “The Best of Me” stand among the band’s best works. “Diana” features some formidable fretwork. “Wish You Were Here,” the album’s closing track, is an understated acoustic number that works quite effectively.

Because The Sounds demonstrate their versatility on Something To Die For, showcasing their excellence in both club-ready tracks and more traditional rock, one can’t help but shake the worry that the band will sound even more schizophrenic on subsequent albums. But then again, they might just hit the same sweet spot that they did on their previous album, when they reconciled all aspects of their sound with relative effortlessness.

While I don’t think that Something To Die For is The Sounds’ best effort, it’s still a very entertaining collection of songs. It’s not a particularly cohesive album, but each of the 10 tracks brings something fresh to the table. There’s nary a clunker in the entire set. So plop the record into your CD player, and get ready to bust out your slick dance moves. Or just pump your fist in the air and rock out. It’s really up to you.

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