ALBUM REVIEW: Theory Of A Deadman – ‘Dinosaur’

Artwork for Theory Of A Deadman’s ‘Dinosaur’ - a dinosaur egg in a display case. The case glass has cracked and the egg has begun to hatch

You just have to laugh, don’t you? After two attempts at a pop rebrand that even their fanbase never warmed to, Theory Of A Deadman come crawling back to rock. Here’s a band so inextricably tied to the nadir of post-grunge, that even attempts to escape that and actively better themselves are futile. Not that either Wake Up Call or Say Nothing were better, mind; if anything, they brought the worst elements of Theory Of A Deadman into much sharper focus than ever before. Bad writing; awful production; a frontman allergic to the concept of likability in Tyler Connolly; none of that was ever a secret in this band’s repertoire, but it became truly unavoidable when that’s all they had to offer.

So what now? What’s changed on Dinosaur to make it feel as though they’ve learned their lesson and are willing to start trying harder? Well…nothing. Should there be? Theory Of A Deadman have always sucked, and a backslide into their pre-existing safety net is hardly a natural environment to evaluate the choices that got them here. Instead, this is a ‘return to roots’ insofar as the music sounds a bit more like it used to. There’s no growth or evolution to be found here, or anything remotely indicative of Theory Of A Deadman doing something useful for a change. At least those last two albums were drastic enough changes to where you’d sit up and take notice; Dinosaur can’t even manage that.

To its credit though, there’s definitely a good amount to talk about with this album. Not a lot of it is good, but either way, it’s what puts Theory Of A Deadman in a bracket higher than the truly formless swill within radio-rock. It handily starts right away too, with the title track about the world ending because of stupid people, and how they’re to blame for inclement disaster that there’s no escape from. Now, that feels like a rather loaded and nuanced topic for Theory Of A Deadman to be tackling, doesn’t it? After all, it’s the only song on this album to even attempt a swing that big, and considering it’s followed just a few tracks later by Ambulance, in which Connolly’s partying and recklessness leaves him in a state where—to quote the chorus’s key line—“We’re gonna end the night in an ambulance”, it’s a bit hypocritical in a way that the band are clearly too lacking in self-awareness to consider. (Side note: it’s really hard to take these big, moralising stands from Theory Of A Deadman seriously, when they come from the same man who wrote a song about how he hates his life because homeless people ask him for money sometimes.)

Looking past all of that though, there’s the usual wheel-spinning about Connolly being in a relationship that he hates, a horse that’s been beaten so many times in this band’s catalogue that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been reduced to atoms yet. And as always, the problem is with Connolly himself, where he’s so insufferably sour and devoid of range to make it even seem worth taking his side. A song like Sick just feels as though it’s taking potshots and complaining for the sake of it, over a jaunty pop-rock instrumental that’s presumably supposed to reframe it as a lighter joke, only to be derailed entirely by the lack of any kind of levity in Connolly’s performance (apply the exact same criticisms to Summer Song, while you’re at it). Then there’s Two Of Us (Stuck), in which a recontextualised interpolation of Bill Withers’ Just The Two Of Us is used to anchor more of Connolly’s ceaseless bitching, and the latent intent of the original utterly derails its usage here. Theory Of A Deadman aren’t clever enough to make something like this work, especially with a song as well-known and well-loved as this.

There’s just something about Connolly at the helm of all this that makes it so much worse. He’s a routinely awful singer that couldn’t un-flatten his voice if his life depended on it (and let’s not even start with his rapping on Ambulance), but there’s such a noxiousness about him that makes him actively irritating to listen to. The undercurrents of misogyny that abound are one thing (though that’s par for the course for Theory Of A Deadman), but even past that, there’s a childishness to his writing and delivery that’s nothing close to biting or cathartic. It’s small and petty, and makes it all the more difficult to care when he’s trying to court sympathy on Sideways or play sincere on Head In The Clouds and Hearts Too Wild.

But again, that’s just Theory Of A Deadman as a band. That’s how they are, and always have been. So much so that Dinosaur feels exclusively designed as a means of jerking that back into a rock context without disrupting the one-dimensional surliness they’ve built their brand on. Credit where it’s due though—there’s a somewhat more diverse palette of sounds here than the usual post-grunge backwash, though it’s hard to say much of it is that good. When it’s not doused in swampy guitar tones and production like on the title track, it’s the barest-bones Foo Fighters impression imaginable, as a means of giving a pulse to Sick or Get In Line. There’s also the odd pop holdover in the cleaner piano twinkles of Sideways and Head In The Clouds, though they feel most like perfunctory additions to give the idea that those last two albums weren’t a total waste of time.

If there’s one song of here that unreservedly earns some praise, it’s Medusa (Stone). Sure, the writing is nothing new or special, but as it builds from a more dynamic opening riff and even staccato hums of cello just piercing through, it’s clear that some actual thought went into this one. Hell, it even gets a bit progressive as it goes on thanks to some heavier, meatier guitar swell, better produced and everything. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to call this one of Theory Of A Deadman’s best ever songs—the competition is hardly stiff, but still—and it seriously makes you wonder why they don’t try things like this more often. There’s at least a cogent throughline to this compared to full-frontal pop turn, and it isn’t too challenging to where their fans might find themselves lost by it.

But that’s not where the money is though, is it? Theory Of A Deadman could try something new, but they did before and it failed, so it’s best to just go back to what they were doing, right? They’re in a position where radio insulation will continue to keep them safe if they do, thus perpetuating the existence of a band who bring literally nothing to the greater conversation in rock music. It’s the usual Theory Of A Deadman fare, after all, churning out commercially-minded sludge just as they always did, to a populace ready to gobble it up for some reason that has never been apparent and likely never will be. Sadly, unlike the real dinosaurs, Theory Of A Deadman aren’t extinct yet.

For fans of: Nickelback, Puddle Of Mudd, Foo Fighters

‘Dinosaur’ by Theory Of A Deadman is released on 17th March on Roadrunner Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Leave a Reply