When I first saw this album, it took me a minute to place the band. I mean, I'd heard of Lifehouse, but I couldn't actually remember their big song till I looked them up on Wikipedia (2001's "Hanging By A Moment", duh!). Of course, then I realized that that's NOT their only big song - according to the article, "You And Me", "First Time", and "Whatever It Takes", all off of interim albums, have also been top-40 hits, a fact I confirmed by first queuing them up and then even RECOGNIZING them on Rhapsody. For a person who prides herself on knowing pretty much every top 40-radio song, this was kind of a disappointing realization: how did I NOT KNOW that Lifehouse has been at it, and succeeding at it, for so long? Probably for the same reason that I will doubtless never listen to this album again - despite their earnest, pleasant, and reasonably catchy music, they're just a little too generic to ever be my jam.
So. Let's start with the basics. According to the band's website, this record is a departure for them, or in lead singer Jason Wade's own words, "We just felt like some sounds needed to evolve. We knew we had to shake things up creatively and go back to the drawing board, try something new." Since I have clearly paid very little attention to them in the last 11 years, I can't speak to how this record compares to the bulk of their work. I CAN say, however, that besides rudimentary similarities (hookiness of choruses, basic song structure, that earnestness I talked about earlier), I probably never would have identified the artists behind this album as the same as those behind "Hanging By A Moment"; while "Hanging By A Moment" relied on thrumming guitar plucks and a post-grunge vocal aesthetic, this record is an almost-literal interpretation of their cover art, which features a spaghetti-Western shootout scene, or in other words, it's full of country wah-wah and throaty lyrics. And, as I ALSO mentioned, it's also quite pleasant to listen to.
The album opens with standout "Gotta Be Tonight", which has a retro boot-stomping beat under rolling guitars and heart-broken road-trip lyrics ("Gotta keep your head up/Stay awake stay awake/This road is rough gonna be/Heartache, heartache"), and then segues to lead single "Between The Raindrops" featuring Natasha Bedingfield, which is most notable for its super-cozy-twinkly guitar and Bedingfield's pretty vocals. The precedent established on these two tracks is followed closely on the rest of the album, with tracks boasting a country-saloon, forward-moving feel chock-full of warm guitars and arching background vocals. Another standout comes in the form of "Right Back Home" featuring Peter Frampton and Charles Jones, where the guitars twang, the drums chug, and the guest artists lay down some extra spice.
As far as the bonus tracks are concerned, first we have "Lady Day", a catchy piano-driven (maybe keyboard? it's hard to hear over the kids!) ode to Billie Holiday that came to Wade in a dream, according to this interview on American Soundwriter, and one that easily has the best lyrics on the whole album ("Her eyes like fire and ice/Her words sharper than a knife/Her hands are ever so cold/But her voice is like wine and roses"). Next we have "Pins And Needles", which struck me as very mid-'90s, although I'm not sure exactly why, and finally there's "Rolling Off The Stone", a solid, stumbling, sexified rocker (well, not "sexified" like actual SEX - these guys did start off as a worship band, after all. it's more that it sounds sexier than the rest of their stuff). Basically, like I said - this album is decent, it's pleasant, the guitars are cozy, the hooks are catchy, the lyrics are repetitive - it has everything it needs to be a top-40 success. Seriously, I like it just fine. But even more seriously, it could never inspire me to love.