Nickelback surprised a lot of people last year with Feed The Machine, an album that saw them finally – finally! – move away from regurgitating the same three songs to step into heavier, relatively progressive territory that actually turned out to be pretty decent. Even better, it seems to have scared off the swathes of Nickelback clones who have existed up to this point thanks to the fact that, because people might actually expect something from Nickelback now, they don’t have the skill to sufficiently replicate that.
Well, clearly Stone Broken didn’t get the memo as here they are with sophomore album Ain’t Always Easy, ready to pounce into an empty post-grunge and hard rock market that’s empty for a reason, and now with major label backing thanks to Spinefarm, it doesn’t look as though they’re just going to fall into the background like so many of their soundalikes did. The fact that this push is going to this lot is preferable to so many others – Stone Broken are at least capable of hooks with presence and some auxiliary heft – but this is still a painfully basic hard rock album with some solid moments at the very most.
And yes, a significant part of that comes from Nickelback comparisons that fly in thick in fast, most notably in the presentation that plays in a very similar ballpark, though with even less character if you can believe it. Rhythm guitar lines are almost universally sullen and impenetrably sludgy; the drums have no flair whatsoever and are merely here as a timekeeping device; and though Rich Moss doesn’t sound as though he’s straining a bowel movement to the extent that Chad Kroeger often does, the similarities are fairly stark all the same. They honestly sound like a pub band, drawing from an already simplistic, generic band and paring it back even further, to the point where Ain’t Always Easy‘s songs are informed by the boring, bog-standard conventions that that band has already ran into the ground. There are the ballads that hit every single mark of post-grunge sensitivity-by-numbers (Home and Anyone), the filtration of whatever subject matter presents itself into lunkheaded hard rock groans (pretty much everything else), and, to round everything off, what would’ve been a competent attempt at integrating some southern rock tones with The Only Thing if it wasn’t for such a dour, dreary mix. Admittedly the brief guitar solos peppered across the album make the effort to remedy how lifeless Stone Broken can feel, but this would’ve been bland and uninteresting in 2004, let alone in 2018 when even hard rock is the most diverse and varied that it has been in a long time.
At least with the benefit of lowered expectations and tailored criteria, Ain’t Always Easy isn’t dreadful, and with the type of band that Stone Broken are, being a bit more charitable is an option, especially with regards to songwriting. But even that’s hard to do when there’s so little to work with, opting for yet another rehash of themes at their most generalised and least complicated. At their most adventurous, there’s the anti-domestic abuse song Heartbeat Away that’s pretty good in tackling a topic with a bit more weight and detail, but otherwise Ain’t Always Easy‘s lyrical turns can be rattled off with startling efficiency. There are generic songs about love, generic songs about rising up against the odds and the usual grab-bag of post-grunge themes that have been done to death numerous times each. To their credit, Stone Broken do know their way around a chorus, and Worth Fighting For and Follow Me would take up some life in arenas if given to a more established act, but there’s nothing particularly stimulating or intelligent here. It says a lot when one of the most of the most attention-grabbing tracks on the album is Let Me See It All, and even then, that’s only for coming across as far sleazier than anywhere else on the album would let onto.
But at the end of the day, it’s hard to know how to feel about Ain’t Always Easy and Stone Broken as a whole. There’s never much longevity when it comes to these sorts of albums nowadays, but clearly Stone Broken are being touted as something potentially huge, and if that leads to some sort of post-grunge renaissance, particularly in the UK, that’s not something that offers much in the way of promise. Seeing Stone Broken leading the charge for UK rock isn’t a particularly good thing either, a dull, stale band with their dull, stale album that struggles to stoke any sort of fires at all, let alone ignite the blaze that they’re clearly expected to. If you squint at it, there’s something there, but it’s going to take a re-working of every facet of Stone Broken as a band to let it out, because right now, this isn’t doing a lot.
For fans of: Nickelback, Daughtry, Otherwise
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ain’t Always Easy’ by Stone Broken is released on 2nd March on Spinefarm Records.