Expectations always run high for a follow up album after the previous one basically catapulted this band into another stratosphere with its devouring pulsating power filled with raw emotion and highlighted by stunning ballads which basically added a whole new legion of fans to its following. Shinedown’s highly successful “Sound of Madness” caught the attention of many rock fans across the world who still didn’t know who they were even after their first two album releases while also picking up what I would call – the “Z-100” crowd, who basically think that “Second Chance” is their only great song. I don’t mean to polarize the different factions in such an extreme measure but I think you know where I’m coming from. Many fans were clamoring for a follow up and were wondering what was taking so long but I completely understood where they were coming from. They needed to ride the wave of “Madness” to the point they did because every single song on that album was a “hit.” But with success, expectations run high. Now Shinedown did release extra singles to “Madness” so it was not like we didn’t get some new songs from them over the last couple of years- “Junkies for Fame” and “Diamond Eyes” quickly come to mind but the anticipation for the March 27, 2012 release of “Amaryllis” was even more maddening because this date was given to all the fans at the beginning of the year and we had to wait almost another four months.
So now it’s here and you ask what I think? “Amaryllis” is a very good album- I would say 3.5 stars out of the ceiling of 5 stars. I think Shinedown (and most likely their label) realized that they picked up many more fans and set out to make this album to make sure that they maintained the interest of “both factions” by continuing with the same ingredients that went into the recipe for “Sound of Maddness.” In my opinion, it is missing that raw energy that was served up so well in “Madness” and this production is much more “polished” with many songs headed straight to “Z-100.” But there are songs that will grab you by the throat and not let go (see “Enemies” or “Nowhere Kids”) to make sure that the rock fan gets his/her fix while tunes like “Miracle” and the title track will ultimately draw in more of the general public. (This should make the record company happy because more of the general public means more profits for everyone). Ultimately for their next album, they will have to veer off down a new path so as to not become too predictable because settling into a crowded space with “today’s rock bands” that have that similar genre nailed down instead of staying ahead of the pack, would be a shame because I think this band has the talent to blaze its own trail. I feel now that are at a cross-road- I understand riding the “Madness” formula but just like when Soundgarden made their blockbuster- “Superunknown”- the follow up-“Down on The Upside” was too much like the former and ultimately led to their demise. I am not saying this is happening or will happen but you all know that I sit in the camp of having less of their songs headed to “Z-100.”
The album starts off in a blaze with the highly aggressive- “Adrenaline”- and right off the bat it is off to the races as this song is an instant wake up call as all the juices in your body are in motion trying to keep up with the pace of the guitars and drums. Brent Smith is the best rock singer out there today-period end of story- and he takes the bull by the horns in the very first song to let everyone out there know that he is taking no prisoners. Who has more passion than Brent? Again- he makes you feel part of every song. This track hits you over the head and my only request would be that they give the lead guitarist more time for a solo. “Bully” is going to be one of their classic’s-yes it has grown on me to the point that when I hear the opening notes, it already seems like it has been out for years. Not only does it serve an area that needs so much attention, the music behind it is stellar. The best part of the song comes at the 2:50 mark when Brent takes his vocals to another level and professes that –“it’s 8:00 a.m…the hell I’m in…your voice is strong…now right the wrrroooonnngggg!!!!.” I have never understood the mindset of a bully and hopefully this song will help be part of the awareness (and ultimately a stop to this cruel treatment of human beings) that is sorely needed. I love the children’s choir in the background- perfect touch. The title track is a mesmerizing song that puts me in a park lying in the grass as I watch the birds fly freely in the beautiful blue sky backdrop. This band has a way of making some of the most “chaotic” songs and then transition into a tranquil setting where you look around and say “what just happened?” Now for the die-hard rock fan it’s probably frowned upon but I love it. I know it’s the formula but I am drinking the cool aid right now and for the first three tracks I am thinking they have another “Madness” on their hands.
Track # 4- “Unity”- is destined for stardom and I can picture this becoming a staple of their upcoming live shows as there will be many hands up in the air swaying back and forth as there is a clear message from Brent and the boys about loving each other as they want all of us to live in harmony. And who doesn’t want that? I have to say that I do like the song but it just may be too much for my sweet tooth to take-sort of like when I was a kid and there was this candy where there was a stick like that was used to sweep up this grinded sweetness that was so sour when I put it in my mouth it made my eyes tear but for some reason I kept eating it. Do you know what I mean? I think the band realized that it was getting too sweet and track #5 goes back to the anger just to keep the original fan of this band from running out the door with the powerful –“Enemies.” The beginning of the song sounds a lot like something that Nickelback would do and the pace is heavy as the head-banging is back in full force. I love the chorus-“who do you think you are?…tearing us all apart…where did you think you could go…cause every one already knows it’s 20 to 1.” The drumming is excellent is this song and at one part it sounds like he is playing on top of garbage cans (now you can stop criticizing Lars for “St. Anger.”). “I’m Not Alright” takes it back down again and could be the best track on the entire album. It starts off with a feel like a marching band that takes the lead at a parade, it flows nicely mixing in what sounds like electric bagpipes- if there was such a thing- with a sing out loud chorus- “I like to stare at the sun and think about what I’ve done…I lie awake in my great escape…I like crossing the lines…maybe it’s me, I’m just crazy.” I think we have all said that at some point(s) in our life. The lyrics on this entire album run deep and again that points to the passion that Mr. Smith embodies- he makes you feel every word.
“Nowhere Kids” kick it back into fifth gear as that familiar sound like “Devour” rumbles into your headset with sheer power but parents beware- the “F” bomb is loud and clear on this track. (Not sure why the parental warning was not stickered on to this CD). This will get the “mosh-pit” spinning in circles looking for bodies to hit- for some reason I can picturea 21st century “Peanuts gang” (who dance with their necks and nose pointed to the ground) bouncing their chests into each other while Snoopy shoots down the Red Baron with renewed vigor. This will be a fun song to hear at their live shows, the crowd is going to go wild. Then at the drop of a dime, the album turns back to the “feel-good-arm-waving-swaying from side to side” as “Miracle” is destined for stardom, a la “Second Chance” and will be on Z-100 in no time. I kind of think the song sounds a lot like “I Own You” from “Madness” albeit with a different chorus but the verses are a slowed down version of this tune, at least in my opinion. It is a little too “commercial” for me but again if the formula works. “I Will Follow You” is the most unique song on the album and actually has an “R&B” feel to it- I almost feel like Brent should have just sung along with just the piano. This song tells me that they have the ability to change up the formula in the future although this production is “majestic” and maybe just a bit too big. But there is no denying that the song is good and Brent shines brightly with his unbelievable vocal prowess. In my opinion, the next two songs near the end of the album doesn’t really end on a high note as they sort of feel like- dare I say- “fillers?” “For My Sake” is a good song but being honest it doesn’t stand out, sort of blends in with the album and could be one that I might skip over. “My Name [Wearing Me Out]” is another good song but again it doesn’t make me stand up and pay attention. You know I love this band but I have to be honest, it doesn’t take away from their talent. The album ends on a high note with the stunning “Through The Ghost” which pulled me back in and it felt like a breath of fresh air. When Shinedown takes it down, there aren’t too many other bands out there that can compete with them and with no offense to the members of the band but it has to do with Brent Smith’s vocals. He will put you in a trance and make you put your hands over your heart as you lip sync to his every words as your face will squint with the passion that is injected by Mr. Smith. This is the perfect way to end the album.
“Amaryllis” is a very good album which many will say is their best effort to date and others will wonder what road Shinedown will take after this work because in my opinion, they are at a cross-road in their career where “commercialism” may take over and alienate their original fan base. For every rock band it is a double edge sword- you want more fans and sometimes that means grabbing more of the “general” public and ultimately more publicity but on the other hand sometimes a band loses sight of what brought in their original fans and this could lead to many leaving the flock. This album has some great songs that makes it a “buy” in my book but I will put a buyer beware to it- there are also some highly polished commercialized songs that pulls them back to the middle of the pack, instead of leading the charge. I do feel they are in this for the long haul and right now they are coasting nicely from the success of “Madness” but we all know that going to the well one too many times could temper things, no?