Everyone seems to have realised that the performative hate for Nickelback is getting really played out now; in the grand scheme of things, they’re not that bad, and even within post-grunge and radio-rock, there’s far bigger fish to fry as far as that hate goes. In those terms, the proverbial shark in the pond has always been Theory Of A Deadman (or just Theory as this current incarnation has deigned to call themselves), who’ve never been interesting in the slightest, and whose creative choices have always circled around doubling down on the most obnoxious and meatheaded of post-grunge subject matter. But while being uninspired and uncreative is one thing, leaning even further into laziness is another, which seems to be the modus operandi when going into Say Nothing. For one, the artwork is effectively identical to 2017’s Wake Up Call bar a recolouration, and with a sound that only seems to be diving deeper down the well of augmenting one-dimensional post-grunge with zero-dimensional pop-rock to nab a few more shreds of radio ubiquity, the hopes for anything of worth are slim to the point of translucency on a good day.
Except even on those grounds, Say Nothing feels like a special kind of awful that Theory Of A Deadman may never have actually plumbed before. They’ve always been creatively bankrupt hucksters at the best of times, but Say Nothing is perhaps the first time they’ve lacked self-awareness in such a magnitude that they have absolutely no idea what they’re capable of achieving. Sure, a band going out of a comfort zone shows a boldness that can often be appreciated regardless of how it turns out, but this is less experimental and more a case of taking the typical nothingness present of a Theory Of A Deadman album and repurposing it in a way that’s wholly cynical, uninspired and more than a little insulting. It might seem genuinely innocuous on the surface, but the perfect storm of terrible that Say Nothing is culminates in the sort of listening experience that’s not worth remembering even slightly.
At least Theory Of A Deadman themselves are kind enough to facilitate an environment where that’s as easy to accomplish as possible, as Say Nothing’s pop-rock pivot is roughly about as flimsy and dissolvable as they come. Besides the okay, low-hanging sway of the sole highlight History Of Violence, there’s not one track on this album that has a high enough production value or an instrumental palette that feels suitably finished to have been released for any wide consumption, and yet the amount of polish that’s been applied to this anaemic mess only draws attention to how flat and lacking in dimension Say Nothing sounds. The basic foundation of a tiny acoustic line, slapped-on percussion, saggy, wet pianos and no low end to speak of is rarely expanded on in any capacity, and that completely swerves past the darker tone Theory Of A Deadman were clearly banking on for something that, in the ranks of shiny, polished pop-rock, feels incredibly amateurish. The lack of any sort of anchoring presence on the title track or Quicksand makes their emptiness as compositional pieces all the more palpable, and the placid creep that never settles on any propulsive forward motion similarly highlights a dreariness that’s never been as crippling to Theory Of A Deadman as it is here. Where they could once hide behind big, blaring hooks if nothing else, to have Say Nothing flaccidly limp on by just feels pitiable, doubly so when the band are under the illusion of being creative like with the presumably Beatles-esque strings and horns on Ted Bundy or the horrid crunch mid-mix that’s impossible not to notice throughout World Keeps Spinning. On top of all that, Tyler Connolly restricting himself almost exclusively to his monotone drawl reeks of passionless, perfunctory time-wasting (though it’s certainly preferable to when he jams a rap cadence in there for some goddamn reason), something that the general cheapness of this album’s production and composition exacerbates thousandfold.
And bear in mind, this is all supposed to be the backdrop to what Theory Of A Deadman have described as their “scariest” album to date, and soundtracking an attempt at being political and socially conscious that works about as well as whenever any band of their stripe goes for the same thing. That is to say, it doesn’t in the slightest, with the best outcome being inoffensive but ultimately reductive stories about a woman going to jail after killing her abuser on History On Violence, or a homeless girl falling in with the wrong crowd on Quicksand. Beyond that, the writing is pretty tragic, all things considered, be that in lyrical stupidity that has no place being put on paper, let alone on record (“Monkey see, monkey do / Monkey me, monkey you” is an actual line sung by a 44-year-old man on here, folks), or in the audio equivalent of boomer memes that try and make a point about how much better things were back in the day on Affluenza and Strangers while having no deeper point to make besides that surface-level chiding. And of course, there’s White Boy, a song about the Charleston massacre that’s more one-dimensional and hollow than any song with that subject matter should be, but tries to artificially make itself seem more prescient in the use of news clips that really does beg the question of whether it’s a worse fate to be gunned down in a racist attack or have your memory serve as the baseline of morality on a Theory Of A Deadman song. And even after all that, it’s not like there’s any deeper impact that’s been had; there’s still the usual slog through Connolly’s never-ending parade of bad relationships on Black Hole In Your Heart and Ted Bundy, and ending this supposedly political album with a song about drinking called It’s All Good betrays the fact that Theory Of A Deadman know how unsubstantial this all is, and they don’t care enough to even keep the bit going until the end.
Because no, it’s not all good. It’ll never be all good, not while Theory Of A Deadman continue to shovel out shite like this and try to pass it off as legitimate, acceptable music. Forgetting the laundry list of tremendous flaws Say Nothing has, the fact that this simply isn’t entertaining to listen to in any capacity is enough to bin it straight away, but with horrendous production, instrumental choices that don’t feel close to finished and writing that wants to be deep but can neither muster the effort to carry that out nor entirely commit to it, and what’s left is a shell of a first draft that’s somehow been seen as a quality final product that people are expected to pay money for. This is cynicism being marketed in its absolute, most naked form, and the fact that Theory Of A Deadman seem so unapologetic about that is probably the worst part of all. Ignore this album at all costs, and make sure that, in future, Theory Of A Deadman get the message and take the advice they’ve unwittingly set for themselves with this album’s very title.
For fans of: Daughtry, Nickelback, Imagine Dragons
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Say Nothing’ by Theory Of A Deadman is out now on Roadrunner Records.