[Originally posted April 2012]
Brad, a band formed in 1992 and including the core members of Shawn Smith, Stone Gossard and Regan Hagar, has just released their latest album United We Stand, only the fifth over their twenty years of playing together. A band often described as a Stone Gossard [Pearl Jam] side project, this is a typical PR but erroneous tag.
Their first album Shame earns its place in my Top Fifty because of its musical timing and triggering of significant memory. Brad in the early 90s – along with The Black Crowes [straight rock], Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam [grunge] – ignited my full engagement with contemporary music because it revisited and reinvigorated the 60/70s rock sound with which I had grown up and which the 80s had by and large replaced with synth-pop, fake drumming and glam/new romantic tweakings [I admit I should/could have taken more note of punk].
Whilst Gossard provides crisp guitar throughout, it is Smith’s distinctive vocals that make this album memorable for me – all four band members contributing to songwriting duties. And though I have characterised this as a resurgent rock band, opening track Buttercup is actually a rather slow ballad and establishes the sound that makes this such a fine album, Smith’s fragile vocal dominating the plaintive core and Goddard’s guitar striking out rising chords. Second track My Fingers is much more psychedelic with echoing, slightly fuzzed vocal and swirling guitar around a grunge drum and bass beat.
Third Nadine returns to the more melancholic tone of the first, Smith by now establishing his signature slight snarl and cracked high tenor, and the song’s rather sudden, lightly shambolic ending reflects the rawness of the album’s recordings completed over only 20 days and often emerging, apparently, from studio jam sessions. Fourth Screen continues the hypnotic lament and Goddard adds a softly toned guitar solo and then empathetic wails to close.
20th Century is a funky fifth, rolled out across its repeated grooves, simply but effectively. Next Good News, like Screen, is a Smith-penned number and continues the propensity for these slower songs with carefully structured melodies to foreground Smith’s singing, here pushing to a falsetto chorus. Seventh Raise Love is a pulsating grunge-come-softrock anthem with surges of Goddard feedbacked lead. Eighth Bad For The Soul is a funked-up tease of a song – no doubt a snippet from one of those jams – but it sets us up neatly for the penultimate Down which is a classic [but incipient here] grunge dirge, the voice distorted with other percussive sound effects until piano, organ and a cleaned vocal emerge – then it segues into and finishes on a grotesque, brutish narrative that is the unnerving, fleeting track eleven We.
It isn’t an album in and of its time as brilliantly dominant as Pearl Jam’s Ten for example – not by a long way to be candid – and I’m not sure I have been able to characterise its particular strengths through the track descriptions above, so it may be one of the few in this category that really does hold its place by the skin of its clinging teeth, a bite that still draws blood from a mood and effect it created then for all kinds of reasons beyond the aural and which therefore bleeds whenever I play again.