Coheed and Cambria: The Color Before the Sun (2015)
When I first heard that Coheed and Cambria were all set to release an album apart from its largely nonsensical Amory Wars saga this year, I was excited to hear the resulting work. This is a band I’ve stuck with even as things have gotten less than ideal, and the right move to freshen up was to do something different for once. In spite of several highlights here and there, not one bit of the band’s discography has been remotely surprising over the past decade. Storytelling can enhance music immensely, but in Coheed’s case all we have ever gotten is cool stuff to yell as the big guitars climax and wail.
Oh, how I now long for lyrical content that was merely dumb fun. The Color Before the Sun finds singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez tackling his personal life (I guess), a personal life that must feature a whole lot of generalized moments and emotions. Detail is hard to find within the walls of these songs, almost as if Sanchez hasn’t ever written words to music that have a deeply personal meaning. Oh, wait. As a listener, I’m never overly concerned about lyrics dragging an album down; I’m a music-first guy, and as long as things are even mediocre, I will be just fine. That said, when the singer of a band who has done a lot of things I like is bellowing phrases like “this is your life now” or “nobody gives a fuck who you are,” I just can’t shrug my shoulders and let it go.
I’m not here to be all doom and gloom, however. There are moments on this record worth revisiting to be sure. “Here to Mars” is my favorite pop offering here, and even if Sanchez is once again confused about what words should come out of his mouth, the throwback guitars and hooky chorus more than make up the difference. I’m willing to forgive a whole lot once Coheed gets in frenetic mode, so once we get the shrieking and synths in the song’s back half, I’m just fine. Album closer “Peace to Mountain” also shows promise of what the band could do right with its slower songs, offering pleasing progressions and a lengthy build before trying to come apart at the seams once overwrought horns work their way into the mix. “Atlas” is solid in its own right if you can get past the painful eye-rolling you’ll do if you concentrate on Sanchez’s ending refrain.
Maybe my faint praise says quite a bit about how I feel. Even most of the tracks that work are suddenly pushed in directions that make The Color Before the Sun feel more like a Coheed parody album than an album proper. When a band fails to try much of anything new sonically, an eight album run can feel like an awful lot. A lot of the trademark sounds that drew me in back in 2002 just aren’t doing it for me now. Why would they when they’ve already been done better by a younger, hungrier version of the same band? The eerie picking on “Ghost” and the ugly chord that closes out a progression near the apex of “The Audience” would have worked a lot better when everything felt new and freewheeling. Music is subjective as hell, and my ears aren’t hearing the same excitement they used to.
I mean why does the hint at untamed aggression on “The Audience” stop short of actually going anywhere? Why is “Eraser” awkward and cheeseball when it should be slinky? Why is the subdued and foreboding verse of “Colors” shit upon with a chorus that would make Train feel badass? I have so many questions, guys, and they aren’t getting answered any time soon.
My numerous listens to this collection of songs probably have more to do with nostalgia than quality, and I have come to terms with that. It does help that almost everything here has a segment I enjoy upon revisiting it, but if I am in the mood to hear Coheed and Cambria’s brand of pop-infused prog, this won’t be the album I choose to put on. I’d like to see Coheed embrace one of the styles it occasionally excels at and push it hard. Give me some crushing rhythm guitars and some Sanchez screams, give me some jaunty emo complete with cooing and barking. But for God’s sake, don’t give me this again. I’ve heard it done so much better.