Is it possible that Theory Of A Deadman aren’t actually a real band, but rather some sick social experiment conjured up within the American radio rock scene to see what the most bland, insipid music possible is? Could well be, and as the past decade-and-a-half has proven, this could be it, between unashamedly recycling songwriting topics, Tyler Connolly’s humourless drawl, and a general tastelessness that, even in a scene notorious for its lack of real colour or spark, few have managed to surpass. The fact that they’ve become so inexplicably huge off the back of it is just another boulder of salt rubbed into the already festering wound.
So six albums in, what’s new on Wake Up Call? Well actually, quite a bit, in fact. Don’t get those hopes up too high, though; this is still a Theory Of A Deadman album at the end of the day, and while their most turgid post-grunge affections have been muscled out of the way by tones more fitting to modern pop and country, you can bet this band can still find a way to botch it all up for another draining listen. It’s all produced to sound as limp and anaemic as possible, which really does beg the question of, if so many new sounds are implemented here, what’s the point if they’re all as mismanaged as they are? And make no mistake, Theory Of A Deadman have no idea how to get the most from these styles, whether it’s the embarrassing turntable scratches and throwaway pop-rap-rock tones of Straight Jacket (as opposed to “straitjacket”?), the totally gutless pop-country of PCH and Time Machine or the drum machines thrown across the board for no good reason that only make this album feel even more dated and sickeningly twee.
Unbelievably, Wake Up Call is at its least objectionable when it’s just flat-out boring. Echoes and the title track might be very boilerplate post-grunge ballads but there’s at least a sense that they’re being handled with some knowledge, and even though the sour textures and weedy beat of Rx (Medicate) feel carried over from a Luke Bryan filler track, there’s a bit of sizzle there that’s not bad, all things considered. Of course quality here is all relative, and even in its moments that are less egregious than other, there’s a supreme dearth of material on Wake Up Call that can really be called good. It’s either a cheapened rehash of other superior material – see Glass Jaw and its blatant ripoff of Muse’s Uprising, only a lot thinner, or the cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game that seemingly forgets that HIM and Stone Sour have both achieved the exact effect that Theory Of A Deadman are going for here – or an awful mishmash of new styles that can be as eye-wateringly cringeworthy as it comes.
But if that all feels like Theory Of A Deadman are overstepping their boundaries, fret not because below the surface, Wake Up Call is virtually the exact same album that this band have been pumping out for years now. It feels like they want to establish that as soon as possible too, given that Straight Jacket kicks the album off with Connolly moaning about a relationship he’s in that he hates for the umpteenth time (this time with some dreadful “modern references” for that crossover potential that literally no one wanted), before rattling off the usual laundry list of post-grunge tropes of nebulous ballads, insincere pump-up tracks and, in the Caribbean-flavoured Po Mouth, a “comedy” track that doesn’t meet any definition of “comedy”, all while Connelly sounds the weakest and most uninterested that he ever has. The one song that could’ve had potential going forward is Rx (Medicate), where Connolly begins to contemplate the state of the world, only to come to the conclusion that he can’t do anything about it, so why not just get high instead? After all, everyone else is doing it. For as broad as Nickelback’s political statements were on Feed The Machine, they at least had intent behind them, not this noxious ambivalence that tries to pretend to care but doesn’t have the mental capacity to make that even remotely convincing.
That pretty much sums up Wake Up Call to the letter as well, an album that’s so comfortable in delivering the absolute bare minimum that by changing up the sound a bit, it thinks it can fool the listener into believing that this is a new, fresh Theory Of A Deadman, when really it’s the exact same band that’s so wrongly gained a career from what they do. Even for as inexplicable as the existence of Theory Of A Deadman fans might be, it’s not even like they’ll find enjoyment from such a cheap-sounding farce of an album. Basically, it’s just a complete waste of time across the board.
For fans of: Nickelback, Uncle Kracker, Smash Mouth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wake Up Call’ by Theory Of A Deadman is out now on Roadrunner Records.