This is the third album from the Massachusetts alt-rockers since their reformation in 2007, and their 10th overall. The band have long been an underrated contributor to alternative music and rock music in general, with guitarist/vocalist/producer J. Mascis being highly regarded amongst fellow guitarists. Along with Kurt Cobain and others, he helped spawned the resurgence in popularity of unloved Fender guitar models like the Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Mustang.
Of course most folks will know them primarily from their classic albums Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, but much of their other work is similarly meritorious and highly underrated.
So then, how are they doing in 2012? Pretty well actually! The album is quite floaty and laid back for large portions with J’s chiming guitar tones cutting through the mix where required. He’s always been the focal point of the band and little has changed on I Bet On Sky. He plays far more solos than most of his grunge contemporaries ever did, and this ain’t no bad thing at all! He’s always played with great taste and melodic understanding and the guitar work on this album is no different. He also riffs it up pretty effectively in the more energetic tracks.
The record is quite similar in construction to their earlier classics but with slightly more of the alt-country sound that was always present, but never at the forefront. You can really hear elements of Frank Black, The Meat Puppets and Bonnie Prince Billy scattered throughout the ten tracks on offer. That’s not to suggest it’s all laid back country grooves, there are more than enough fuzzed out riff-fests present, particularly in the second half of the disc, which is just as well as on the first listen I was wondering where the rock’n’roll was!
J’s production work leaves a bit to be desired, with most tracks sounding a little fluffy and blurred. It’s not bad…but not real good either, and the band probably should have enlisted the services of an independent, unbiased producer/engineer. His vocals are pretty good although he sounds like a complete doppelganger of Frank Black….or is it the other way around? In any case, all is good vocal wise. There are fragmented instances of keyboard and sampled string sounds although they are very much understated and only repeated listens revealed them.
This is a good record, it’s just that…..here’s the thing. It just doesn’t grab me. The reasons are inexplicable and intangible. As with much music, you can’t explain why you like or dislike it, you just do…or don’t. No part of it screams exceptional compositional talent , lyrical prowess, instrumental virtuosity, or emotional catharsis at me. Sure, those aren’t the only characteristics that constitute great music, but they’re a good start. I apologize for not being more lucid but this album is just a little flat.
There are some really good tracks though. “Rode” is a fuzzed out country rocker with some angular chromatic riffs providing a counterpoint to the country feel. “I Know It So Well” is bouncy and funky, almost reminiscent of Janes Addiction in their lighter moments. “Recognition” is the most diverse track featuring a clever arrangement and some very cool riffs mixed in with acoustic musings. My favourite track by FAR is “Pierce The Morning Rain” which is sort of a pseudo-title track as it contains the lyric “I bet on sky…”. It’s got a great stomping riff, cool vocal hooks, a really punk approach and some excellent soloing. I would have liked the album a great deal more were there more tracks like this.
All in all, it neither inspires or offends. It’s good, but not great, and merely produced a wan smile and shrug from this reviewer.