Against the odds, You Gotta Go There To Come Back is a record that goes somewhere to...
Jack Smith 2003
Stereophonics have always inspired partisan feelings. Their detractors loathe their meat-and-potatoes attitude to making music, seeing them as little more than pub musicians who struck it lucky. Dedicated fans, on the other hand, take delight in the passionate songs of Kelly Jones. There's never been much of a middle ground.
Evolution not revolution has always been Stereophonics modus operandi. Over the course of their career, they've never been ones to rock the boat, choosing instead to steadily refine their songs and production. They've also edged ever closer to American radio rock, presumably in a naked attempt to break that market.
However, You Gotta Go There To Come Back, the band's fourth album, is being heralded by some to be as good as their debut Word Gets Around. And while it shares much of the intimate charm of that record, this is an altogether slicker affair.
Produced by Kelly Jones, the album delves even further into his beloved 70s songbooks. In addition to the weather-worn AC/DC signposts, there are nods to Stevie Wonder, Creedence Clearwater and The Isley Brothers. And, in the opening easy funk of "Help Me (She's Out Of Her Mind)", Jones achieves a rough approximation of Lennon's "Cold Turkey" vocals. 'Rough' clearly being the operative word there.
Future single "Maybe Tomorrow" follows, featuring the smooth guitar from the Isleys' Summer Breeze and melds it onto a gently driving radio-friendly rhythm.
The album's highpoint, however, is the closing "Since I Told You It's Over". A slightly countrified epic ballad that ends just a little too soon, by some stretch it's the best thing Stereophonics have done in years.
Still, it's not all high notes in the Kelly Jones canon. Nobody in their right mind would want to listen more than once to the dreary "I'm Alright (You Gotta Go There To Come Back)" or "I Miss You Now". Likewise, "You Stole My Money Honey" is seemingly a bold attempt to string as many musical clichés as possible into one song. They do well with it.
Similarly, "Climbing The Wall" appears to be a sundrenched West Coast guitar ramble, of which the most remarkable thing is the couplet: 'I'm just standing here looking at myself again, I'm going blind/I'm just sitting here playing with myself again - it's turning me on'. Really, Kelly, do we need to be told?
While Stereophonics have never been the most musically adventurous band, thankfully, they seem to be moving away from the blandness they've always been slightly guilty of. Against the odds, You Gotta Go There To Come Back is a record that goes somewhere to finally justifying Stereophonics' success. It's a sturdy piece of work, one which will be lapped up by their fans. It might even make a few friends along the way too. Rock on.
Review courtesy of BBC Wales Music