Album Review: The Alien Coast- St. Paul and the Broken Bones
I don't like being a nay-sayer when a band or artist tries to do something different, especially when they've already established themselves as one of the best in a certain realm. I have always really loved St. Paul and the Broken Bones for their retro-soul sound and Paul Janeway's INSANE energy during performances. Friday marked the release of their fourth album, The Alien Coast, dabbling into more styles: some felt like softer r&b, some felt like psychedelic rock, and one even felt like disco (no hate there, I love a good disco tune). The result is a little bit more scattered than I would have liked.
One thing that really stood out with this album compared to the band's past work is the lack of horns. Without any sort of call back to old school soul music, I do feel that St Paul kind of lost the spark that makes them so great and unique. However, what is definitely still in tact is Paul Janeway's unique and emotionally piercing voice. If you are a fan of Brittany Howard's solo work or Alabama Shakes, this band will deeply resonate with you. It also makes sense that The Alien Coast is their first release on ATO Records (home of Brittany Howard and other bands like My Morning Jacket and Phish), but what feels strange is that I feel like their previous albums fit in better with the labels alternative, jam catalogue when compared to this album.
The Alien Coast is very loosely a concept album having to do with apocalyptic and after-life themes which seems to be very much in style for 2022 (see The Weeknd's Dawn FM). This is introduced in the quick first track, "3000 AD Mass," but I feel is never really committed to as a cohesive theme. Again, the album tries to be too many different things at once and kind of says "hey, we know our old stuff is great, but we want something new here," which I can respect, but that doesn't mean I'm going to like it.
As I said before, I am a sucker for some good disco and I really did love "The Last Dance," which is the clear standout of the whole album. It's the only song on the album that really has any sort of call back to their previous style and makes you want to move. It feels very similar to "Apollo" from their last album which was upbeat, but this has more modern production. I really love this song and it's going to be on replay for sure.
Another standout track for me was "Ghost in Smoke," which is where their departure from their previous sound actually paid off, going more psychedelic. Paul's vocals shine here more than anywhere else on the album, and that's saying something because he is a phenomenal singer. The power behind his voice when he hits the "I can feel you in my heart baby" followed by the guitar with a ton of reverb feels like new territory that is executed so well.
I don't think this is a bad album by any means. However, if I am comparing it to their previous three albums and to other recent albums that hold to the same theme, I do think The Alien Coast is left in the dust. I respect that they took a departure from their previous sound, but I wish they had remained at least cohesive because the album does not feel like it has any real order to it. If they were to remain more on the disco and psychedelic realm for the other tracks, I think this would have been an easier sell for me, but overall, I found it to be forgettable. Love the album cover, though.