This is every aspiring guitarist’s dream lived out right here. Sophie Lloyd got her start with covers and medleys posted to YouTube, before eventually picking up collaborations and brand deals with the likes of Amazon and Harley Davidson, as well as a slot performing with one of the biggest artists around on their recent world tour. Granted, said artist is Machine Gun Kelly (hey, they can’t all be winners), but thankfully, his influence doesn’t seem to have percolated into Lloyd’s own work in a very overt way. In fact, there’s not a trace of anything close to pop-punk to be sniffed out on Imposter Syndrome, instead being a platform for Lloyd to flex a frankly astonishing number of contacts she’s amassed in hard rock and metal.
It’s a more worthwhile path, honestly, considering that’s the sort of music that Lloyd primarily took from, and she’s evidently good at it. That’s really the bottom line on albums like this—if it showcases the abilities of the guitarist at the centre of it, it’s outright impossible to deem a failure. That’s the point, after all, and Lloyd’s shredding does constitute the most interesting and dynamic parts of these individual tableaux. But there’s also a sense that Imposter Syndrome is missing a key piece to turn it into something great, and it’s not precisely hard to pick up on after so long.
It’s certainly not a lack of star power, though. If there’ll be any magnetising factor around Imposter Sydrome, it’ll unequivocally be that, especially those more open to throwback hard rock and radio-rock names. At least among them, there’s a pedrigree—Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale and Black Stone Cherry’s Chris Robertson are among the main ones, along with Trivium’s Matt Heafy in the one of the album’s primary curveballs. Past that, although they mightn’t stand nearly as tall, there’s still something to be gleaned from Steel Panther’s Michael Starr or Atreyu’s Brandon Saller, singers that illustrate how far- and high-reaching Lloyd’s pull is with more detail. None bring much uniqueness or lavish personality, but for the sole purpose of being mouthpieces, they do fit their roles well. Especially in the upper set of singers, like Hale or Robertson or Marisa And The Moths’ Marisa Rodriguez, they bless these songs with a size that Lloyd’s considerable shredding does well to back up. At its best, Imposter Syndrome does occupy a hard rock space with legitimate quality behind it.
But there is also where its biggest, most visible problem lies, for while this is the ideal environment for each individual vocalist to shine, you aren’t getting much of what makes Lloyd herself special when the direction of these songs is so heavily informed by its guest performer. There’s a versatility on Lloyd’s part, sure, but that doesn’t manifest in something singular to her, outside of the solo that bulks out each track (and even then, that’s at a push). On her own album, she can begin to feel like an extremely talented session musician, rather than an artist with a cohesive vision across an entire album. With Hale, there’s hard rock; with Robertson, some added southern muscle; with Heafy, a slide into darker metal textures that only hammers the point home all the more.
It’s not bad when it does work, but it also makes the artist whose name and image adorn the very cover of this album feel like a part-player. Compared to someone like Orianthi, another prodigious guitarist who also came up among global musical juggernauts (namely Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson), there was a pop-rock flair attached to the insane playing that made her earlier work feel so fresh and singular. An even closer fit is Slash’s solo debut from 2010, which also had the stacked cast of guest performers and even the adaptability to match their usual styles, but came with his own guitar signature present that was still easily identifiable. Now, to be fair, axe-slinging for MGK isn’t exactly on the same level as a storied, decades-long history with Guns N’ Roses, but the point remains—there just isn’t enough of Lloyd herself that feels intrinsic to her. The main exception is Lost, a teamup with fellow Internet-born musician Cole Rolland that’s entirely instrumental, and thus gives Lloyd’s own style the room it needs to breathe and settle.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur too often, and it’s even more of a knock when Lloyd’s willingness to bend to the will of her collaborators doesn’t exactly fall favourably. On Do Or Die, she can only give as much as Inglorious’ Nathan James puts in, when his voice and performing demeanour is the equivalent to an AI prompt of ‘classic rock man’. Later on, Avalanche finds itself crushed into the same murky past that Trevor McNevan typically produces in Thousand Foot Krutch, which is really the antithesis of Lloyd showing off the limits of her capabilities. There’s also Judge And Jury, in which Theory Of A Deadman’s Tyler Connolly sees fit to infect another artist’s work with his gurning sourness and infuriatingly unspecific whinging for one hell of a mired closing note. Even Michael Starr isn’t that bad on here, eschewing all of Steel Panther’s typical grossness on Runaway for a song that might as well be in celebration of Lloyd herself, a “glimmer of the glory days” rising through the ranks to play with the best of them.
And, y’know what? That’s still fair. It’s not like Lloyd provides evidence to the contrary on Imposter Syndrome, nor does she give it any less than her absolute best for what the situation allows. It’d just be nice to hear her develop before something like this, and find a playing style of her own before throwing the big names out there like some knee-jerk justification of her own awesomeness. Sure, a career path like hers that’s steamrolled its way from one giant opportunity to the next makes something like this phenomenally tempting; if literally anyone were in the same shoes, they’d do it too. But when you’re seeing more of ‘a guitarist backing up huge names’ rather than ‘Sophie Lloyd’, the balance between intention and execution can feel a bit off. Still, if Lloyd is to be the next nailed-on guitar sensation, she’s already showing off that she’s got the means to maintain it—that’s something, at least.
For fans of: Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry, Steel Panther
‘Imposter Syndrome’ by Sophie Lloyd is released on 10th November on Autumn Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall