It might sound strange and incredibly spurious, but there’s actually hope that Stereophonics can deliver some quality in 2019. It’s not because they’ve done anything to spur on such notions themselves – their last handful of albums remain incredibly drab, even for this sort of Britpop revivalism – but theirs up to now has been a similar trajectory to Feeder’s, a band who, just a few months ago, delivered an album of noticeable quality in Tallulah that came after an incredibly fallow period within their releases. The parallels between the two are pretty easy to draw as well, never being all that fantastic but finding a suitable degree of footing in big, simplistic rock anthems, and with the mainstream longevity of Stereophonics arguably being even longer, they’ve got even more of a reason to tap into something more bracing, both to try and get a leg up in an indie-rock scene where they’ve been relegated to perennial elder statesmen, and to hopefully find some galvanisation among a career that’s been starved of it over their last few albums.
That’s not the case though, as Kind and its ‘back-to-basics’ approach ultimately drives Stereophonics even further down the sort of dead end that’s hard to get onboard with in really any form. As usual, it’s the sort of album that only the most ardent of defenders will find much of anything to enjoy, simply because it’s another case of the band playing to their audience, where the sound is older and the pace dips somewhere between pleasant afternoon radio fare and complete monotony. It means that Kind isn’t even bad or boring in an interesting way, but just another way for Stereophonics to keep on keeping on that feels just as tired as the last.
It’s that lack of any real motion that puts an end to Kind basically as soon as it begins. There’s maybe a bit more shuffle to opener I Just Wanted The Goods thanks to a bouncier guitar line and vocal cadence in the verses that’s more or less jacked from The Beautiful South’s Perfect 10, but it’s about the only thing close to a rollick that Kind ever picks up. Slow, elongated acoustic lines form the basis of the vast majority of these tracks, clearly trying to foster some kind of Oasis-esque, homegrown quality, but all that really happens is these songs end up so drained and bland without any distinguishing character. Even when the aim is to have a well-telegraphed slow burn to a big crescendo like on This Life Ain’t Easy (But It’s The One That We All Got), the arrangements are so basic that there’s really nothing to say about them. Admittedly, something like Bust This Town emerges with a bit of quality behind it thanks to a more defined identity for itself, namely some sharper guitar and drum progressions, but there’s not exactly much in the way of thrills to be found here. Even Kelly Jones sounds bored to be here half of the time, and even if his voice is unequivocally the saving grace of this album with the rugged burr that’s often been his standout feature, the lazy drawls and underwhelming mid-ranged efforts on a track like Stitches don’t really accomplish much besides wrapping themselves further in the middle-brow safety blanket that so much of Kind cultivates.
But even if this was designed to be a safe album (which, given where Stereophonics currently fall on the musical spectrum, is almost certainly the case), doubling down on the colourless universality that comes in the writing just feels like resting on a handful of crutches that feel unnecessary to have. It’s not like the technical writing is all that stellar either, but the likes of Fly Like An Eagle and Hungover For You don’t even make much of what they do have, instead leaning on tropes of arena-rock yearning that don’t make any of this sound more inspired. Even when Street Of Orange Light tries to paint its images of wistful nostalgia, there’s nothing to it that makes it all that interesting, or distinctive from the images of small towns that countless other bands – including Stereophonics themselves – have put down before.
There’s just so little about Kind that feels all that necessary, especially when Stereophonics deliver it in such a way that accentuates how flat and featureless their overall approach is. It’s listenable, sure, and it’ll undoubtedly make adequate background music, but that’s only because there’s that little to engage or interact with, as Kind plods lazily along ready to be forgotten the exact second it’s over. It feels old in a way that Stereophonics have chosen to embrace for some baffling reason; rather than trying to recapture that spark in the way that these kinds of bands so doggedly try to do, Kind is what happens when the complete opposite route is taken, with the results being enough of a deterrent to prevent anyone else from trying it.
For fans of: Oasis, Travis, Doves
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Kind’ by Stereophonics is out now on Parlophone Records.