My criticism of Our Lady Peace has been pretty consistent. With Naveed and Clumsy, the Canadian rockers became the country’s foremost grunge act. When grunge washed out, however, OLP struggled to solidify an identity and began pursuing fruitful reverberations that worked for other bands. This was never more apparent than on their 2009 release, Burn, Burn. Reviewing it on some other site, I called the album “more of the same.”
So here’s Curve, OLP’s eighth studio album. It features Canadian boxer George Chuvalo on the cover and was recorded at lead singer Raine Maida’s Los Angeles studio.
So is Curve “more of the same” or has Our Lady Peace discovered their character as a band again? Is the new album another concentration of outside stimuli or does it strike a distinctive chord for Maida, Jeremy Taggart (drums), Duncan Coutts (bass), and Steve Mazur (guitar)?
The news, I’m happy to report, is good. Curve is everything that made OLP a somewhat interesting group in the first place. It is not the band’s best shot at a Coldplay or a Radiohead record, thank goodness, and it’s not a tortuous sliver of “art rock” without a heart. It is a collation of OLP’s original rock elements knit with experimental awareness. It is broadminded, but not merely for the sake of it.
It is also a deeply passionate record, right down to Maida’s vocals. Unlike his cluttered solo effort and some of OLP’s more contemporary work, he is fixated on the core of the music and on generating moving moments in time. His nose for songcraft is obvious now, like it was with the luminously unhinged Naveed and the radio-friendly Clumsy, but his mind is open and his nasally tenor is fittingly agitated in all the right places.
With respect to a weak point, the rhythm section is a little on the flavourless side. Taggart is a capable drummer, no question about it, but things are played fairly close to the chest on this album.
OLP continues their tendency for valiant album openers with “Allowance,” a dynamic, melodically buoyant song. Taggart batters out a disco beat as thumps of keys give the number an anthemic, huge arena texture. Maida scrambles the chord changes in somewhat off-centre approach and Mazur cuts some well-ordered guitar into the mix.
“Heavyweight,” the first single from Curve, lets Maida jog out the falsetto and the associated vocal paraphernalia. Mazur’s guitar chomps along, setting the stage for what really is a damn good melodic hook.
My personal favourite track is the lovely and contemplative “Will Someday Change,” a cut that serves as a valuable reminder that Our Lady Peace can pen a pretty decent ballad. Maida runs very close to melodrama, as expected, but his falsetto and ability to drop his tenor to a near -murmur crafts some appreciated tenderness.
Curve isn’t an earth-shattering rock record and, let’s be honest, Our Lady Peace was never really an earth-shattering band. Theirs is a heritage of trying to find a place to happen, so to speak, in a parcel of broader and better talents. With this record, though, OLP’s journey back to basics is certainly a step in the right direction.