Unless we’re all expected to grade future OLP albums on a curve, this effort by the venerable Canadian band can only be seen as a bitterly disappointing pill to swallow.
Our Lady Peace – “Curve” (2012, Warner)
As a long-time fan of Raine Maida’s music, I give him a lot of credit for being willing to push his band in varied directions over the years even when they were internationally dismissed as being just another Nickelback — alt-rock by the numbers. The band’s early albums from 1994’s Naveed through 2000’s Spiritual Machines stand among the best of the genre. They’ve simply lost their way somewhat in the current decade, as their shifting sounds frequently take a back seat to Maida’s off-kilter political diatribes.
Having interviewed both Maida and the other members of the band separately, I have the distinct impression that the two sides don’t necessarily always work in concert, which may explain albums like Burn Burn and Curve, which suffer from overblown lyrics and a sense that the musicians involved are treading water. The more control Maida has wrestled away from the band’s record companies, the freer he’s been to bog down these albums in sanctimonious bloat and lyrical nonsense, leaving the other members to simply come along for the ride. Maida has said Curve was an attempt to go back to the sounds they’ve mined on Clumsy and Spiritual Machines, but the music lacks the strong concept of the latter, and the hooks never come close to the former.
“Fire In The Henhouse” and “Heavyweight” provide the closest thing the album has to a decent pop-rock hook, and both are bogged down by indecipherable lyrical bloat: “Fire in the hen-house, protests in the deep south … it’s Shangri-La in reverse, time to call the wet-nurse,” Maida sings on “Henhouse,” before bogging us down in the chorus, rhyming change with accelerate, hesitate and calculate in an oddly syncopated stutter-step of banality. No one’s going to sing along with this, or likely even remember it beyond a casual listen.
And “Heavyweight” collapses beneath the forced metaphors of boxing and a world on fire, never really gelling around a concept listeners can fall behind. The chorus, where all should fall together, is a mess of babble: “When all these stars hit the ground, they’ll wake us; we fight not to be weightless.” Even a veteran of Raine-speak has to be baffled hearing him compare this to the depth and experimentalism of Spiritual Machines when there’s nothing to the bulk of the album to back up that comparison. It’s depressing to think he’s so far from reality, imagining this work is even close to on par with the albums which supposedly inspired it.
From there, Curve never finds its footing. These ten songs try to say something worthy of a repeat listen, but continually flop around as they struggle to suck air. “As Fast As You Can” tries to combine TV on the Radio with Arcade Fire with a stunningly toothless hook. “I’ve got a girl got a long snake moan,” he sings. “Got the voodoo in her hips and a God-shaped hole. I’ve got a feeling that the kids don’t know. What the kids don’t know the kids don’t mind, we all work on borrowed time.” Ugh, what a hot mess. If this is the best he can muster maybe it is time for Maida to hang up his pen for a bit and let someone else in the band a try. It can’t get much worse.
“I could be the greatest accident,” Maida sings on “If This Is It,” the album’s closest thing to a “Car Crash” or “4 AM” moment. “I just want to breathe you in.” Those of us who have followed the band for years, we have to hope the band still has something more to say, looking to the future more than they look so depressingly at their past, unable to recreate what made them tick in the first place. Unless we’re all expected to grade future OLP albums on a curve, this effort by the venerable Canadian band can only be seen as a bitterly disappointing pill to swallow.