Album seven for Black Stone Cherry starts out really well with some stormers. Ringin' in My Head is a deceptively simple southern rock-inspired belter and it's a catchy one indeed. It was repeatin' in my head after only one listen and that means that it's a real earworm. Lead single Again is pretty stellar too but it's not quite as catchy and it's a little more alternative in nature. They're still a killer pair of openers though.
From there, the album kind of just keeps on going. These aren't long songs, so there are eleven more of them to come and only two of the thirteen make it past four minutes. In Love with the Pain doesn't quite make it to three. The good news is that none of them are bad. The bad news is that none of them are quite up to the standard of the openers. They each sound good as they play but they courteously move on to make way for the next and they don't leave anything of themselves behind as a reminder of what they were. They seem catchy but they're not earworms like Ringin' in My Head is. That one was still playing in my skull after track thirteen ended.
That means that they play best as album tracks rather than songs with lives beyond that format. And I like the collection of them that is The Human Condition. There's a lot of consistency over these songs, that patented Black Stone Cherry mix of hard rock, southern rock, and grungy alternative rock. Chris Robertson has the perfect voice for that mix, because he's not quite any of them individually but he's naturally all of them at once. If this band didn't exist, he could take a Chris Cornell type gig in an alt rock band without any trouble, but he's better with the harder edge that works so well here.
What's weird is that we eventually get to a cover version, which comes out of the blue with four songs left, and it isn't remotely what we expect. We could imagine something out any of those three worlds, a Deep Purple song, a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, a Soundgarden song. What we get is an ELO song, albeit a rare ELO song without strings, namely Don't Bring Me Down, and it's surprising enough that it has a purpose here, even if that purpose is just to surprise us. Black Stone Cherry do it well.
Unfortunately, that puts us in the mindset that we're in the double digit bonus tracks and so it's hard during the intro of another song not to see it as a cover of Metallica's Ride the Lightning. It's not, as it's an original song called The Devil in Your Eyes, but we've been surprised once. Why not again?
I've listened through the rest of the album a few times, avoiding the two strong openers that I'm sold on already, just to see if it'll eventually grab me and it hasn't yet. Everything still sounds good and it prompted a few notes, but none of it stayed with me, however much it felt like I enjoyed it. The Chain is starting to get there, with both a catchy chorus and a catchy riff. It's the heart of the album and I'm wondering if things would play any differently if I swapped it with Ringin' in My Head.
The softer songs are good, like If My Heart Had Wings, and the harder songs are even better. While all of them are driven by the timbre of and melodies in Robertson's vocals, the band are very tight while somehow seeming to be loose. That's a neat trick to master and they have it down. That works best on the songs where the riffs are urgent, like Live This Way. Black Stone Cherry do urgent really well and, judging by the "Yeah!" after that one finishes, they both know it and enjoy it.
Maybe I just need to leave The Human Condition be for a while and see if it starts to creep back out of my memory. If it doesn't, it's still a worthy album. If it does, it's a better one.