Now officially five albums and over a decade into their professional careers, Welsh rockers Lostprophets (or, once upon a time, lostprophets) don’t seem to be going anywhere; indeed, despite their lack of notable, Stateside relevance in the wake of their breakthrough, sophomore effort, the band just seems to keep chugging away with admirable precision and ferocity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their latest outing, WEAPONS (which won’t see an official North American release until mid-June): this is the release of a band that has settled in nicely, with a sound that’s had sufficient time to be honed and refined into something inarticulably specific. And although there are a myriad of diehard fans out there who will begrudge the following assessment – there are still those out there that lament the loss of the band’s initial style, as heard almost exclusively on debut THEFAKESOUNDOFPROGRESS – WEAPONS is truly the culmination of the band’s last three albums – a perfect cross-section of START SOMETHING (their aforementioned sophomore), LIBERATION TRANSMISSION and the oft-overlooked-by-casual-listeners-due-to-a-confusing-American-release THE BETRAYED. It may not quite reach the heights of that latter release – a nearly-perfect, brooding effort that allowed for cracks of light more than embraced them – but WEAPONS is one of those rare shadow albums that manages to transcend its limitations by choosing to embrace all facets of the group’s past rather than just mirroring the last album.
Released a mere two years after their last album, it’s unsurprising to hear how little has changed between then and now: WEAPONS succeeds more in the steps that it takes backwards than in the ones it takes forwards. That isn’t to say that the album is a regression by any means. Instead, it represents a summation of the band’s career, drawing from the various styles that they’ve experimented with over the years: the rap-esque vocal techniques of “Better Off Dead” are certainly as reminiscent of the band’s early years as “Heart On Loan” is of their first foray into poppier melodies on LIBERATION TRANSMISSION, and new fan-favorite “Jesus Walks” might as well have been titled “Where We Belong, Part II”, which is far from a bad thing. In fact, each track on the album is so era-specific in its songwriting approach that one gets the unmistakable suspicion that this album might be a well-above-average packaging of career-spanning b-sides; even the cover looks like rejected artwork for the eerily similar one found on LIBERATION, and “Somedays” is so obviously a START SOMETHING holdout that it must have been written almost a decade ago. If nothing else, then, WEAPONS might as well be exhibit A for the case that Lostprophets’ sound has actually shifted very little over the course of the last four albums, naysayers be damned.
Yet one extremely notable shift from the last album to this one is the rawness of the production, atmosphere and general songwriting approach. While the timespan between LIBERATION and BETRAYED was four years, the turnover rate for this album was only two. The result is an unpolished, visceral album that many fans – at least, the ones who think the band has gone in a far too polished, poppy direction in the wake of their sophomore effort – will likely celebrate: the melodies are indistinct and imperfect in spite of all their catchiness, the instrumentation is far more stripped than the densely layered BETRAYED and, at a brisk 40 minutes, the energy is focused and deliberate instead of sprawling and epic. This is the definition of a reactionary record, and that should absolutely not shine a negative light on either this release or the one that preceded it – it’s just an antithetic album.
In spite of the presentation, this is still a shadow album in a variety of ways: the melodies, the riffs, the rhythms and everything in between will be distinctly and unavoidably familiar to those who have heard even one song that this band has produced in the last few years. Which is, of course, not a bad thing – by avoiding a re-creation of THE BETRAYED, it will almost certainly appease fans of the group’s catalog, both the old and the new. But the downside of sticking to the formula (even if it is a broad, career-spanning formula) is that the album will inevitably reek of “more-of-the-same syndrome” in a way that previous Lostprophets’ albums didn’t. Whether you agreed with the direction that the band took or not, each past release pushed things a bit further along that trajectory. Not so much here, and the album suffers for it.
Still, there’s no arguing with the cohesiveness of the results, nor the fact that this is nothing more than a comfortable release. After all – when you’re five albums in, you start to get a general feel for what your fans are expecting, and WEAPONS certainly delivers on that front. Though I’m not wholly convinced that it’s going to talk any original fans back from denouncing the band’s current sound, it’s certainly worth a listen from those who have found themselves enjoying the last two albums.
Standout tracks: “Jesus Walks”, “A Song For Where I’m From” and “Better Off Dead”.