Hugo Gordon sees if Silversun Pickups have recovered their spark with their latest effort…
Silversun Pickups’ new album Neck of the Woods opens with a slow, dreamy, Western-tinged sound – not until a minute in do we hear Brian Aubert’s familiar nasal voice and that signature distortion-heavy guitar. It’s a sign that the Pickups are searching for something new, after their last album, Swoon, did not meet with the same ecstatic reaction as their debut Carnavas.
And so, for the most part, out goes that post-grunge, Smashing Pumpkins sound that marked their first two releases, the band instead looking past the 90s to both 80s pop and hard rock – the Pickups haven’t lost their taste for shoe-gaze mixed with heavy guitars.
The results are mixed. There’s a touch of the grandiose about lead single ‘Bloody Mary’, while ‘The Pit’ and ‘Simmer’ suffer from unfortunate synth lines that sounded dated decades ago. ‘Here We Are (Chancer)’ seems to confuse dreamy with sleepy – Aubert sounds like he’s going to nod off any second. Silversun Pickups’ best songs have always been based around solid core riffs, but too many songs on Neck of the Woods sound like recording studio jam sessions.
The band make much more successful use of 80s heavy metal however, with the likes of ‘Mean Spirits’ bringing some much needed energy to proceedings. Bassist Nikki Meninger’s vocals are once again the Pickups’ secret weapon, her harmonies with Aubert on ‘Dots and Dashes’ provide an extra something.
Neck of the Woods is not the sound of a band coasting. But looking even further into the past is not the answer to critics who find Silversun Pickups derivative. And stepping outside their comfort zone has not seen the band recover the excitement of their first record. In fact, it’s interesting to note that the album’s best songs – ‘Skin Graph’ and ‘Make Believe’ – are those which sound most like The Smashing Pumpkins.