I have loved Lifehouse since their hit “Hanging by a Moment” blared through the radio waves when I was in high school. The song was being given plays long before I knew of the band’s name, and when I finally did learn the name, I went out to buy “No Name Face”, and that’s when it all began. Having the opportunity to catch their Singapore concert in October of 2008 could be easily counted as one of the “ten out of ten” moments in my life, what with the newer line-up of the band and getting to witness frontman Jason Wade belt out a voice that is amazingly strong, even stronger than on the records. I thought that after hearing their raw talent onstage, I would be able to make an album review with the appreciative tone of having seen them live. The following review stems from that.
I learnt of the release of “Smoke & Mirrors” several days before its release, and really went out of the way to get a copy. Although it was for a fleeting moment, I did notice the cover art. Is it just me, or has the album design gone downhill over the last several releases? Not that the cover design itself is hideous, or that it’s the band’s fault at all, but I don’t remember being impressed by any of their cover designs since “Stanley Climbfall”. But allow me to say this: although I am a designer by profession and do notice things like cover designs, I am not so superficial that I would make an absolute connection between mediocre design and the quality of the music.
During the first few listens, it felt like a fluffy “honeymoon” phase. The sounds were wonderful because they are new, from the very trademark sound elicited from the first track to the various musical directions the succeeding songs. The collaboration with Chris Daughtry is a pleasant surprise to me, but the joy is directed more towards Lifehouse. Daughtry has been collaborating with a handful of wonderful artists for some time, and I guess it tugged at my alternative-rock-loving heartstrings to know that two groups I especially enjoy listening to decided to do a song together.
However, before I listened to the album, I scoured various weblogs for musically like-minded people who already made reviews of “Smoke & Mirrors”. Looking back, I think I regret doing so. A lot of the reviews that I stumbled upon were written by, let’s say, purists. Their sentiments lean towards the older Lifehouse sound, and their reviews were underlined with their perturbation — if not, disappointment — at the musical experimentation the group decided to undertake. Whether or not I was pre-empted through my searching for reviews before listening to the album, I later understood the collective sigh of those who still hung by a moment, so to speak, especially that to the hits that propelled Lifehouse to their music status today.
Track List Run-Down: First CD
- All In: The first track’s guitar riffs and happy rock melody sets off a wonderful start to the album. Revolving around the theme of commitment, “All In” clearly reflects the trademark Lifehouse sound that many long-time fans may be able to recognise.
- Nerve Damage: There are a number negative reviews about this song, mostly for its failure to deliver. But I feel inclined to disagree. The song goes in the direction of a new sound, taking on a blue-sy direction, and marrying it to the aggression of guitars. The effort should be applauded. It is the most colourful track of the entire record, and probably the furthest away in terms of proximity to the trademark Lifehouse sound. The sound direction might be new to the band, but it carries potential for possible future songs. If anything, the arrangement may need tweaking, but the sexy, raspy quality in Wade’s voice perfect for the track. The instrumental blue-sy bridge is phenomenal.
- Had Enough (featuring Chris Daughtry): Daughtry and Wade, both having strong voices, own equal volume in the track. Not mind-blowing, but nonetheless a great listen.
- Halfway Gone: “Halfway Gone” is the single that made it to the charts and was the song initially promoted for the release of this album. Sure it’s catchy, and it makes for a pretty good single, but it doesn’t blow the lid off the record.
- It Is What It Is: This track is lauded as the one that remained true to its musical roots. For any fans who much prefer the old Lifehouse sound will be pleased with “It Is What It Is”.
- From Where You Are: Perhaps one of the most touching songs in the album, “From Where You Are” is not a particularly new song. It was released in 2007, and the maudlin lyrics are in dedication to Wade’s friend who died in a car accident. It is a very good track to wax nostalgic.
- Smoke & Mirrors: The title track neutralises the sentiment felt from the previous song.
- Falling In: “Falling In” possesses a blissful, adorable quality. A definite foot-tapper and head-bobber.
- Wrecking Ball: Wade’s vocals are what made most of the Lifehouse sound, but hearing bassist Bryce Soderberg taking on the vocals for this particular song is a refreshing listen.
- Here Tomorrow Gone Today: The new sound for this particular track seems to follow the so-called “mainstream standard” for rock music of the present day. Those who are partial to the sounds of now would probably appreciate “Here Tomorrow Gone Today”. If any, it sounds like a fun yet angry dance number.
- By Your Side: “By Your Side”, like “All In” and “Falling In”, contrasts the previous track with positive lyrics and the fresh sounds.
- In Your Skin: “In Your Skin” is a very likable song, yet it seemed to be a rather odd track to end the first disc. However, the comforting familiarity of the sound is reminiscent of “No Name Face”.
Track List Run-Down: Second CD
- All That I’m Asking For: This is my favourite track of the entire record. Those who haven’t acquired the album yet are highly suggested to get the deluxe edition, because this track does not appear on the regular release. The string, piano, and background human vox arrangement is perfect, swelling with emotion with every refrain. The number of repeats recorded on my iTunes for “All That I’m Asking For” is embarrassing.
- Crash and Burn: In spite of the track’s title, the melody is very easy-going, and is a very fun song.
- Everything (Live In Studio): “Everything” was originally in “No Name Face”, the song has been revived as part of this record, but this time with a speedier ending and a slightly different musical atmosphere in general.
- Near Life Experience: A very nice number to end the second disc, much like a gentle yet dark lullaby.
“Smoke & Mirrors” proves itself to be a very good summation of where Lifehouse wants to head musically without letting go of the roots that propelled them into mainstream alternative music. There are songs that adheres to the trademark sound Lifehouse is famous and songs that are placed well in context to the music that is popular today. At times, I can understand the feeling of slight disappointment from long-time fans, who may have wanted Lifehouse to remain true to the sounds of old. But musical evolution doesn’t hurt, and it is clear that the band knows this. Altogether, it is a great album, and it provides ample excitement for the next release.