Upon the release of their eighth studio album, Graffiti on the Train, I found myself contemplating: are the Stereophonics on the right track to another successful album? Or have they finally run out of steam? After listening, however, it was clear that they hadn’t lost their touch. The new album demonstrates how the band aren’t afraid to re-invent themselves and experiment with new sounds. The question now was if the album would live up to its predecessors, and the first few songs certainly show the potential for this.
‘We Share The Same Sun’ is in keeping with the classic Stereophonics style; the opening finger-picked, minor chord progression producing a sombre tone in which Kelly’s signature gritty voice re-instates. Simple lyrics complement the melodic hook, yet seem to have deeper, melancholy undertones. The song is well-paced throughout and alternating rhythmic drum beats create intensity in the right places.
Another well-crafted, catchy number is title track ‘Graffiti on the Train’. The steady-paced, minor chord progressions reflect the tragic story which the brooding vocals tell with an expression of raw emotion. The song is laced with orchestral strings which create depth whilst strengthening its dramatic nature. Meanwhile ‘Indian Summer’ is an instant hit with its undeniably catchy, lighter sound which evokes the warm nostalgia of summer. The softer harmonious chords and light drum patterns delicately suit a theme of love and loss, whilst the interweaving electric tinges add a rockier edge.
Unfortunately it seems to go downhill from there. A good portion of the album is much darker; relies heavily on production, and, to be brutally honest, is a bit of a mish-mash. The songs generally start promisingly but build up to nothing and lack depth. ‘In A Moment’, for example, starts with a rhythmic guitar riff and builds up different layers of sound in anticipation for the chorus. Sadly though, any hopes of the song bursting into that expected rock anthem are deflated: it just doesn’t have that ‘wow’ factor. The vocals are prevalently monotone which perhaps inaugurates the obscure quality, but, although I hate to say it: it’s boring.
‘Take Me’ features the vocals of Kelly’s girlfriend, Jakki, and epitomises this ‘darker’ edge. The song is essentially quite creepy with the rather sinister arrangement of bass notes in the piano riff, alongside Jakki’s haunting vocals singing an octave above his. Again it’s unique: I’ll give them credit for that, but not a match for Stereophonics’ earlier material. Switch along a few tracks and you’ve got ‘Been Caught Cheating,’ which has a very bluesy feel. It really brings out the soulful element of Kelly’s voice and comprises some nice vocal harmonies and funky guitar solos but is slightly repetitive and seems a bit out of place on such a rock-esque album.
Even more random is the final song, ‘No-one’s Perfect’; a delicate, slowed-down track. Like others; it begins promisingly with the sweet, gentle chords intensifying the passionate, gravelly texture of the vocals. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem to progress into anything more, disappointingly. The vocal melody follows that of the instrumental and is a little bit bland.
All in all, Graffiti on the Train is definitely worth a listen: the better songs of the album are golden and an instant hit with any Stereophonics fan. The lyrics all have a story to tell, and demonstrate how Kelly’s writing ability is still at its best. Unfortunately, the rest of the album I feel lacks any particular style or continuity. Perhaps the band drifted from their comfort zone a little too much and should have played it safer.