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|2. I Won't Tell You|
|3. Not Enough|
|4. I'm Not Afraid|
|5. I Like It|
|7. The Pain|
|9. Wide Awake|
|10. The Maze|
|12. Shallow Life|
2009 release from the Italian Goth Metal band, one of the most anticipated Metal releases of the year. Recorded with acclaimed producer Don Gilmore (Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, Pearl Jam) at the famed NRG Studios in Los Angeles, the first full-length studio album since the 2006 release Karmacode is undeniably a huge step forward in the band's musical evolution, and promises to be well worth the wait.
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While "Shallow Life" might surely interest more people--which is a good thing in itself--I personally dislike the direction the band has taken. For the other Lacuna Coil fans out there, the word "direction" might seem a slightly exaggerated, and I agree: I believe it mostly has to do with their choice of producer for this album (Don Gilmore), which would explain the somewhat vapid standardization of their unique sound displayed on "Shallow Life". I'll refrain from making an insipid and/or ironic comment on the title...
Okay, now for the concise track-by-track review:
1. "Survive" is a good opening track. The band seems to be extending its "Karmacode" sound into the new album (which is a good sign, no?). The very low tones contrasting with the light child-like voice the somewhat exotic melody vaguely reminds me of the best Korn produced. The standard yet solid chorus is carried mainly by Andrea, while Cristina takes care of the melodically researched verses. All in all, your average kick-ass Lacuna Coil song.
2. "I Won't Tell You" has the more mainstream approach to it. This track is propelled ever-forward by a very engaging rhythm, combined with the clever chord progression that fits the whole "marching while banging your head silly" feel.Read more ›
This album is........... blehh. My first thought was - they must've hooked up with a new producer. After reading the reviews I see that my hunch was correct. So this goof did for them what Bob Rock did for Metallica. How wonderful.
Three stars is generous. This is a radio friendly crap-fest.
Happily, they have tried to reverse course with the latest offering (Dark Adrenaline) and there are a helluva lot less of the nausea inducing ballads on that particular disc.. I'm not expecting them to sound like Decapitated or In Flames.......... I just don't want them to sound like Avril Lavigne. I don't want much.
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But the band's songs haven't really gotten any worse -- it's just that the production exposes the weaknesses that were always there. For all that Karmacode is a good album, it has all of the same problems. First, Lacuna Coil are not terribly proficient songwriters. They don't really write memorable hooks or riffs, and they rarely play solos that go beyond following the vocal line. They're good at creating a loud, roiling sound, where the drums crash and the guitars have this metallic reverberating growl, and the synthesizers are sort of swirling around everything else, but they tend to repeat this approach on most of their songs. Even Karmacode has a bunch of tracks that sound very similar. Really, the main attraction of Lacuna Coil is the remarkable vocal interplay between Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia, rather than the music.
Shallow Life is no different in this respect. Honestly, I can't really differentiate the music in "I'm Not Afraid," "Underdog," "Spellbound" and many other songs. However, the radio-friendly production actually leads Lacuna Coil to branch out a bit by trying out some dance elements on two songs, "I Won't Tell You" and "I Like It." The dance elements are very light, consisting mostly of steady 4/4 beats with high-hats, as well as more synth-oriented music and "diva-like" vocals (Cristina sounds a lot like KMFDM's countless industrial divas on these songs), but they do add energy to the album. Goth or metal purists may be upset by this, but I quite enjoy it; I think the coolest goth and industrial bands were always the ones that had a secret dance fascination. But anyway, these two songs liven up the album a lot, and contribute the catchiest choruses.
The other weakness of Lacuna Coil is their lyrics. On Karmacode, the voices tended to blend into the loud, stormy music, so it didn't really matter what they were singing. Unfortunately, on Shallow Life, the production emphasizes the vocals. You can see the general trend from the song titles -- they write vague fight-songs with names like "I'm Not Afraid," "Underdog," "The Pain," and "Unchained." The songs have positive messages about overcoming your problems and finding the strength to push on, but there's a lot of awkward repetition, like the call-and-response in "I Won't Tell You," where Andrea first yells, "How can I tell you you're falling apart? Open your eyes if you want to survive! How can I tell you your love is a lie?" and then Cristina answers, "Don't ever tell me I'm falling apart, don't ever tell me I will not survive, don't ever tell me this love is a lie." Not really top material.
The smooth production seems to suggest that they're going for mainstream appeal, which means that all the songs are in English. Karmacode had one song in their native Italian, and it actually sounded awesome. I think they ought to do that more. I mean, every Ladytron album has a couple of songs in Bulgarian, and it works fine for them. I've no clue what they're saying, but at least it sounds cool.
Fortunately, at least the vocals in Shallow Life are strong. Some people don't like Andrea's voice; it's true that it's much more limited than Cristina's, but I think they contrast well together, although it would be nice to hear him branch out beyond his rasping shout. On the bonus track "Oblivion," he tries a slightly more relaxed, melodic approach, and it sounds good. Why doesn't he do that more often?
I should also mention that Shallow Life greatly improves toward the end, which is a pleasant surprise. "Unchained" adds much-needed variety with an unexpected guitar solo. It sounds very good, in a classic-rock kind of way (I thought of Wall-era David Gilmour), and makes me wish that their guitarist had a little more room to play without vocals on top. "Shallow Life" is an excellent ballad -- the piano is effective and there's also a sort of bouncy electronic break occasionally appearing in the background that provides an interesting diversion after all the straightforward guitar distortion on the album. This song also puts some cool effects on Andrea's voice, making it sound less harsh and squawking. Perhaps he should look into using a vocoder. Cristina rounds things out with a movingly weary vocal performance, which is very welcome after all the generically-peppy statements of defiance.
But, yeah, I do miss the more ornate, baroque side of Karmacode -- songs like "Within Me" or "Without Fear" that had more of a dignified classical tinge among all the angry rock. That side does not appear on Shallow Life at all, except possibly for the title track. This may be the reason why many reviewers get an impression of "shallowness" from the album. The two dance-inflected tracks are the closest that Shallow Life comes to a Big Single (the last two songs are the best, but they're not really anthems), but their lyrics and straightforward music are less interesting than the dramatic build-up of "Within Me."
The worst thing the album does is to highlight weaknesses that the band already had, which is usually what happens with a more streamlined production. It is, however, enjoyable, and in small ways, it even tries a few new things. Hopefully the good parts of the album indicate some kind of new direction.
I can understand why 'old school' Lacuna Coil fans would dislike "Shallow Life" -- it definately continues the trend from "Karmacode." But with that said, I Like It. (See what I did there?) :)
My complaints are that the songs are far too brief -- 4 minutes is a long song on this album -- and there are several duds (The Pain, Underdog) that do nothing for me and all sound alike. But there's plenty to like, including I Won't Tell You, Not Enough, I Like It, and Spellbound.
I've no idea why the male vocalist gets so much air time; Christina is the reason you listen to Lacuna Coil. I don't hate the male vocals -- they provide a nice contrast -- but come on, with her voice I shouldn't have to wade 30+ seconds into a song before she comes on board and essentially "saves" the track.
If you're a new fan and liked "Karmacode" you'll probably like "Shallow Life." Everyone else needs to come to grip with the fact that the band -- and their sound -- is evolving.
However, the songs lack substance. Many albums require multiple spins to reveal the underlying nuances. Shallow life doesn't have any. What you hear is what you get.
There are some interesting ideas and vocals in typical Lacuna Coil style, but as they move headlong to a more radio-friendly style, the short durations do not allow the songs to breath nor develop. One can hear the goth style trying to emerge, but there is no time for twists nor reflection.
The songwriting is simply not there. This is not one of Lacuna coil's finer hours.
If, indeed, Shallow Life were in the same vein as Karmacode, I should end up liking it too. It isn't, and I don't.
Thats not to say it isn't at least worth a listen, and a few of the tracks shine out above the rest, I Survive, Spellbound, and if you spring for the extended edition, the extra track Oblivion does too. These are the best of the album, unfortunately, they aren't quite up to Karmacode standards.
There are other tracks that are a good enough listen, but hardly striking the way Lacuna Coil's music has been to me in the past.
Where are the problems? Like others have said, it seems uninspired and often repetitive, and I'm very disappointed with the decision to move Andrea into a more central vocal role. The major draw for me with Lacuna Coil has always been Christina Scabbia, and seeing her relegated to such a limited supporting position in this album is far from satisfying.
I still hold out hope for the future, and I'll still buy Lacuna Coil's next album, but some words of advice for them; feel free to be as poetic with the lyrics as you want, dump the pop producer and go back to Sorychta.
The answer to all three is yes...sort of. Shallow Life is a mish-mash of styles. There are classic sounding songs like "Survive" and "Spellbound" that could have fit on Comalies or In a Reverie. Then there are more modern sounding tracks like "I'm Not Afraid" and "I Won't Tell You" that carry on in the direction of Karmacode. And then there are songs like "I Like It" and "Underdog" that don't sound like Lacuna Coil at all. Were these suggested by their new producer Don Gilmore in an attempt to recreate his work with Linkin Park and Avril Lavigne? Whatever the reason, they come close to totally derailing Shallow Life, killing the album's early momentum and just leaving me cold. There are a couple of stronger tracks towards the end ("Spellbound" and the title track), but the album as a whole seems very uneven and completely unfocused.
I like at least half of the songs on Shallow Life, and love one or two ("Not Enough" and "I'm Not Afraid"), but this is the first Lacuna Coil album I've been less than thrilled with. I think it's way too early to write the band off, and they're clearly talented and driven enough to bounce back from a lackluster album. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later.