Lifehouse – Smoke & Mirrors
Over the years, Lifehouse has been a very successful band in North America. Ever since they debuted with their album “No Name Face” (which featured hit singles Hanging by a Moment & Sick Cycle Carousel) they have been a steady force on American mainstream radio with their mix of infectious pop/rock and a more grungy rock edge.
While their second album, “Stanley Climbfall” didn’t get the same amount of mainstream success and the band had some label struggles afterwards, they came back strong with the anthemic self-titled pop album and after that with their fourth album “Who We Are” which was somewhat a return to their original sound.
On “Smoke & Mirrors” the band that once stole the hearts of young people with Hanging by a Moment and later consolidated their status as pop/rock icons with You & Me (which is now one of the leading choices for wedding ballads all over the world), the band shows they aren’t afraid to experiment with their sound and stretch it into places some fans might not have expected. Some of the songs seem a little safe, and some of the songs portray a more current feel and sound to them, while there are also songs that are influenced by progressive rock, americana and even the use of synthesizers isn’t something that scared off Lifehouse on this new album. In the end it may well end up to be the band’s real break out album, because it is a complete package and shows maturity and variety and is commercially very appealing. Almost all the songs on Smoke & Mirrors have a quality that makes them fit for radio airplay. And while the true rock fans may, at times, be a little disappointed with this album, or at least they might need some time to make the same adjustments that the band did, I would say that all in all, this is Lifehouse in optima forma.
The album starts off with All In, which is a track filled with killer hooks. It also is something you’d expect from Lifehouse, which is why it makes a smart opener of the album. Draw in new fans with a mighty, catchy, uptempo rock single, while you keep your old fans satisfied and excited because this is what they want to hear. Lyrically it’s not the band’s best track, but it’s something one can easily relate to and apply to many different situations in life. The riffs and hooks and infectious vocals make All In a serious candidate to become the follow up single for this album.
And right after the first track is finished, Lifehouse produces one of their masterpieces. Nerve Damage is a very organic and complete track that combines the band’s signature sound (think Just Another Name, The Joke, Better Luck Next Time, etc.) with a progressive rock edge that reminisces of the mid-seventies. With excellent, and at times somewhat mysterious, lyrics and an incredibly good bridge (comparable to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, etc.), this song is a rock opus like you don’t hear anymore these days. Musically challenging and yet still very appealing to the listener. This song leaves a lot of room for improvising when played live and it’s one of those songs you can lose yourself in when you listen to it. One of the top tracks on this new album.
Had Enough, co-written by Chris Daughtry & Richard Marx is a bit of an anthemic pop/rock single, that fits with the stature of Lifehouse, as well as with the co-writers of the song. Daughtry, who also provides backing vocals for Had Enough, and Lifehouse have cross-over fanbases, which is why it makes sense they are embarking on a tour together. Both acts make a kind of rock that is commercially attractive and reaches out to the listeners through relatable lyrics and empathic vocals. The lyrics in Had Enough will speak to the broken hearted and the frustrated lovers, which is always a formula for success. Cause lets be honest, everyone knows how that feels. I would not be surprised to hear this on the radio someday soon.
And with Halfway Gone, we come to another co-write. Jason Wade was assisted by Kevin Rudolph on this lead single. The, at times, funky and free sounding track has a fun feel to it while the lyrics press to a somewhat more serious matter. Of course there are several ways of interpreting the lyrics to this song, as we are used to with Lifehouse, but the upbeat, uptempo, danceable beat of the song contrasts this. It’s a very good choice for a lead single, even though it sounds more like a summer song than a winter song to me. However, the song is doing well in the States and is charting in Europe, Asia & Australia as well. It’s not exactly the first thing you would expect Lifehouse to release, but in some ways it’s also a breath of fresh air and it is working well for the band.
Lifehouse shows they are full of surprises on the next track. It Is What It Is has a very current feel to it, with influences from pop and even a little cross-over RnB in the production of the song gives this song a very nice sound. Though at some points it may be a tiny bit overproduced, it doesn’t really hurt the song. It Is What It Is may not be the most inspiring song title, as some reviewers have pointed out, but lets judge the song on its merits. It’s a mix of several different musical influences that mashes together perfectly. The vocals are very impressive and the beat (strengthened by a high quality rhythm section) gives the song enough drive to potentially become a multi-platinum selling hit single. The chorus really is money-in-the-bank and the lyrics are once again very easy to relate to. While the fans of the rock band Lifehouse may not get into this song right at the first listen, even they might warm up to it eventually. And this is where the real strength of this track lies. In its cross-over nature. It will be able to draw in fans from different genres without really chasing off the fans the band already possesses. One of the album’s more interesting songs if you ask me.
One of the best songs on the album is From Where You Are. With that said, it should not have been on the main album. This previously released song is amazing in it’s sentiment, feeling, simplicity and compassion. It’s the song Wade composed for the Allstate commercial awhile back and the lyrics are simply mind-blowing. There really isn’t much about this song I can criticize as it is just very impressive. However, musically it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album and it comes off as rather strange, which I feel does not do justice to the song itself. I’ve talked about this to other people and many agree with me on this. One of my friends, however, made the remark that while it may be a weird choice for the album, this album might also need it. Because it’s the only track that really has a deeper, emotional layer to it. And when I think about it, I am inclined to agree with that. So I’m just seeing From Where You Are as the magnificent piece of songwriting that it is, more than that I see it as a key track on this album.
The title track is perhaps one of the most impressive songs on Smoke & Mirrors. With some westcoast and americana influences, this track may remind you of The Eagles & Tom Petty’s Refugee. Which isn’t weird as these bands (among others) have been influences to the band at one point or another. And everytime I hear this song I’m surprised at how catchy it is. I still don’t think it’s a very obvious choice for a radio single, but it might be an outside candidate anyway. Maybe not so much to become a huge hit single, but it would definitely satisfy a portion of underground fans. But most of all, this is just one heck of a driving song. Just picture yourself in your convertible driving down the highway. Sun shining on your head, Smoke & Mirrors blasting out your car speakers. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
Then another collaboration with Kevin Rudolph, Falling In. His influence isn’t nearly as obvious as it was on Halfway Gone, but this song, also, is a good candidate for radio airplay. It may not be an instant hit, but it could be one of those songs that lingers in the charts for weeks and weeks at end. It’s so easy to sing along to this sweet love song. It certainly could be described as a bit of a safe song, musically, and lyrically also, but sometimes simple isn’t so bad. As long as you can get the message across and execute it convincingly, I don’t see the problem with it. Is Falling In the most memorable song on the album? No, it absolutely isn’t, but it definitely is a song that is pleasant and sometimes that can just be enough.
Bassist Bryce Soderberg gets a chance to show off his vocals on Wrecking Ball. And surprisingly this track is one of the most interesting songs on the album. This isn’t necessarily cause of Soderberg singing (even though he absolutely convinces as a vocalist!) but just as much cause of the musical basis of the song. When it comes to songwriting it has a bit of an indie rock edge to it, which perfectly suits the live feel the band produces during performances. And the infectious nature of the song, combined with great lyrics and a nice round and edgy feel to the song provides for a surprisingly good song that fits right in on Smoke & Mirrors.
Here Tomorrow Gone Today is a song that will turn off some of the old fans, the synthesizer, almost techno-influenced, overproduced nature of the song is something that isn’t really something that you’d expect from Lifehouse. And I admit I was caught off guard too when I heard this song, but the unexpectedness also makes it interesting for me. Cause if you give the song a chance you’ll hear that underneath all these bells & whistles there is a very decent rock track that is very, very catchy. Though I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite tracks, it sure is interesting.
One of the weaker tracks is By Your Side. Lyrically I think it’s pretty good, and both musically and vocally it’s on a good level, but it doesn’t really do much for me. It’s a good track, but it’s not a memorable track. Every time I listen to this song I feel like this could have been so much more. It has a bit of the early Lifehouse feel/sound to it, but it doesn’t completely follow through on that. That, and on this track the production takes away too much. While on some of the other tracks, the more present production works for the song, it doesn’t really on By Your Side. I can still enjoy this song, but it’s just not as memorable as it could’ve been, in my opinion.
With In Your Skin, Lifehouse ends the regular album on a high note. Lyrically it is probably my very favorite of this album. It’s also quite catchy and it covers the traditional Lifehouse sound with the pop/rock mix that has a slight edge. Yet it doesn’t sound old or boring or like something you hear all the time. It might not be the track everyone will be talking about, but for me personally, it is one of the album’s key tracks. It may also be the poet in me somewhat, but this song strikes a chord for me.
All That I’m Asking For is a song that just blows my mind. I’m not sure what I was expecting for this song, but the anthemic build up and the comforting vocals, combined with the poetical plea in the lyrics just makes me listen. This song also has a very current feel. I can really see this on a soundtrack, or even released as a radio single. It may be the most impressive track on the album. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are missing something in it, but I believe it sounds pretty much the way it was supposed to sound. I wonder why this didn’t make the actual album.
Then we finally hear a studio version of Crash & Burn, which is a song that got somewhat of a cult following among the Lifehouse fans after it was played live several times. The song is paced down slightly and the lyrics are altered a little bit, which makes it sound a little less energetic and passionate as the live version of the song that we originally grew to love. However, I have to admit that this way the build up of the song might come out better and it still has that certain swing and rawness to it that makes this band so good. Everything’s real and true and they don’t have to hide behind a lot of fancy musical tricks. They have the good and they deliver. And that is why Crash & Burn is such a fan favorite.
Fan favorite and album closer for No Name Face, Everything, gets re-recorded for the bonus part of this new record. The excellent songwriting and epic build up of the song is only rivaled by Simon off the same record in Lifehouse’s oeuvre. This song that can be interpreted as a testament to faith or love (or any other way that pleases you) is a guarantee for connecting with the existing fanbase. It has always been among the fans’ favorite songs and that is not going to change. I’m not sure if it brings too much extra to this album, but it’s a nice reach out to the longtime fans and a gesture that will surely be appreciated.
One of the most surprising songs is Near-Life Experience, on which Wade shows off vocals that remind one of David Gray & Bob Dylan. And even in the songwriting you can hear Dylan-esque influences. And while it takes a little getting used to because you really do not expect this kind of song from this band, it is actually quite the impressive song. Strong lyrics, impressive songwriting and a very solid way to end the album.
There is a remix of Halfway Gone on there too, which doesn’t really add much to the album. Though I can’t say it really bothers me either. Not the greatest remix, but it’s not bad either. It stays pretty true to the original song and tries to emphasize the danceable parts of it. I doubt it’s what the Lifehouse fans are waiting for, but they have a whole album to enjoy, so they probably don’t really mind it too much anyway.
“Smoke & Mirrors”, in my opinion, is the album that will propel Lifehouse back into real stardom. Not just in the US but all over the world. It will need work in terms of promotion and marketing, but being on a major label, the possibilities for that should be present. With key tracks like Nerve Damage, It Is What It Is, Smoke & Mirrors, Wrecking Ball & In Your Skin, there is definitely growth to be seen, and with the overall current, modern feel to the album, the band embraces their commercial appeal and the combination of this may well provide the last step to worldwide mega success. Already they are gaining airplay in places they haven’t been on the air for years, so the first signs are good for them.
With a refreshing, surprising, and essentially solid album, Lifehouse is back. The album provides songs that are suited as radio singles, but the songs also have the edge to become energetic and powerful live songs, which will appeal to the fans of the rock side of Lifehouse. Overall it mixes the commercially attractive mainstream pop sound with the more edgy rock sound; a combination that opened the way to success for Lifehouse in the first place. It’s too early to say this is Lifehouse’s best album, but as time passes, it may well turn out to be.