I have no hang-ups about admitting The Bravery’s “An Honest Mistake” was one of my favorite singles of 2005. Its “Planet Earth” bassline and irresistibly catchy chorus made it a powerful rival to those of The Killers, whose own Brandon Flowers began a shit talking campaign against The Bravery’s Sam Endicott around the time of its release. So dude was in a band called Skabba The Hut, we can look past that. There were enough highlights on their debut album to keep them from getting lost in the ’80s revival shuffle. The tricky part is being able to deliver a sophomore album that lived up to its predecessor’s promise. Peers like The Killers and The Stills moved toward an Americana-laced stadium rock sound, shying away from the new wave leanings, while Hot Hot Heat honed into their indie pop songwriting skills, downplaying the spastic dance sound of their debut. With The Bravery’s The Sun and the Moon, the group is clearly attempting some new directions, though where they’re actually going isn’t all that clear.
The Sun and The Moon starts out strong enough, with the U2-like “Believe,” which soars in spite of some awkward lyrics like “we do our time like pennies in a jar, but what are we saving for?” It’s easy to get past Endicott’s turns of phrase with melodies like this, however. The bouncy “This Is Not The End” is catchy enough, though loses a bit of the album’s initial bombastic appeal. On “Every Word Is A Knife In My Ear” the group picks up the pace with more dance rock, which, though fun, takes a few unfortunate turns, offering more cringe-worthy lyrics (“like a snake in a suit spitting into the air/ with a tongue like a needle and we’re shot full of fear“) and an extremely cheesy guitar solo. Still, it’s an easy song to like, for the sole reason that it’s a fun rock ‘n’ roll song that doesn’t take itself seriously.
With “Bad Sun,” the band attempts more earnest songwriting, which is pleasant enough, but falls into a generic disco chorus that keeps the song from being discernable from prior singles. Ah, but it’s “Time Won’t Let Me Go” that finds the band truly descending into throwaway “modern rock radio” territory, Endicott offering some particularly horrible verses, lamenting “Whenever I look back on all the best days of my life/ I think I saw them all on TV.” And then it gets worse—ballad “Tragedy Bound” is the obligatory song about the disturbed girl: “I’m starting to suspect she likes the abuse…she’s cutting herself just to see if it works” They should have just covered “Janie’s Got a Gun” for b-side material and moved on.
“Fistful of Sand” raises the bar slightly, opting for midtempo MOR pop, and “Angelina” follows suit with more of the same, even taking it a step higher by returning some energy to the record where limp, embarrassing ballads began to take over. Yet “Split Me Wide Open” and “Above and Below” find the band almost indistinguishable from Clear Channel’s latest airwave sensation, and no amount of auto-tune can save them. It’s not that The Bravery doesn’t have talent, after all they did write some good songs before this album. But in trying to shy away from passing trends and evading pigeonholes, they’ve ironically erased anything that made them stand out, leaving only mere traces of a once-fun band.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.