Chevelle – Hats Off to the Bull Album Review
Chicagoan hard rockers Chevelle recently released their sixth studio album, Hats Off to the Bull, and it’s safer than ever to assume that these guys ain’t never gonna change.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely up to you.
For most of Chevelle’s sixteen plus years career, and especially after they hit it big with their sophomore effort Wonder What’s Next back in 2002, they’ve basically been recycling and reimagining the same narrowly focused yet expertly crafted elements into a handful’s worth of albums. As a fan, on one hand it’s great to be able to count on the consistency and the routinely high quality of the music that you fell in love with all those years ago. I can think of plenty of artists who hit a creative sweet spot only to abandon it just as quickly on the next album in the quest for creative maturation or experimentation. I’d find myself asking, “Why not make Awesome Hit Record Pt. II? You’ll have plenty of time to change things up afterwards, so strike now while you’re in this particular groove.” Of course, that’s not how many bands approach their craft (the gall!).
Then again, on the other end of the spectrum, you have bands like Chevelle, which risk watering down those moments of musical glory not simply by repeating them once or twice, but by repeating them ad nauseum. Are they unwilling to change or unable?
I thought that losing bassist Joe Loeffler back in 2005 would shake things up a bit, especially for a closeknit band comprised of three brothers. But Pete and Sam moved right along and brought in their brother-in-law Dean Bernardini (gotta keep things in the family!), and the songs remained the same. I suppose I’m skimping a bit on actually describing this latest album because it truly does hew closely to the formula – songs driven by chunky, metallic, elastic bass grooves and hooky melodies that are meticulously crafted with Pete’s voice, which continues to separate itself from the pack in its ability to convey angst from the upper registers.
Hats Off to the Bull isn’t an exact carbon copy, so let me point out the few differences here. Most of the lyrical content traverses the familiar ground of esoteric emotional roiling, but Chevelle also offers some of their most explicit messages here; just listen to them eviscerate Wall Street crook Bernie Madoff on the lead single and album opener, “Face to the Floor.” Stylistically, long gone are the days of turbulent climaxes a la “The Red.” Instead, everything is much more deliberate. However, in lieu of any album-defining climactic breakdowns, the energy level begins to flatten and stagnate during a sagging middle. The sometimes severe undulations that mark Chevelle’s best work are largely absent now and that dampens interest over the course of a record.
I suppose I’m being unfair to a certain degree. The fact of the matter is that even though Hats Off to the Bull sounds like every other Chevelle album released in the past decade, at the end of the day that means that it’s yet another album of above average hard rock. Artists certainly have to contend with the legacies of their own catalogs, but so too should each album be measured on its own individual merits. It’s a tricky balancing act for sure because no matter how good the music is, you inevitably run up against diminishing returns. One of these days I’d like to see Chevelle take the initiative to see what greater heights they can reach, and I’m left to wonder whether these lyrics from album closer “Clones” isn’t self-referential:
“After all / We need a change I feel / From this saga of old past blandness / Maybe I’ll tase myself…/ You’re just a clone of them / Have you no way to set a fire.”