Even with the departure of powered-by-plutonium guitarist Ben Curtis, Secret Machines’ new album is full of nervous energy. Frontman Brandon Curtis and his swaying melodies still hint at chaos, drummer Josh Garza is still the kind of guy who’d swing at a housefly with a sledgehammer, and new guitarist Phil Karnats has added sludgy fuel to the fire. But these noise boys have mellowed out a bit, too. The album starts out with less of a bang than you might expect, with Curtis sounding all introspective and concerned with the future, and with his band veering closer to Pink Floyd than ever before.
And while songs like “Have I Run Out,” “Now You’re Gone” and “The Walls Are Starting to Crack” are full of similarly deep thoughts, what’s largely missing are the cosmic crescendos Secret Machines used to do better than anyone else. “The Walls Are Starting to Crack” could be an Interpol song, really, which can be taken as a compliment, no doubt, but really shouldn’t in this case.
There are gems here, too, though: “I Never Thought to Ask” is a knee-weakening prog ballad, sad and meaningful and important, like a better version of those songs that inspire hair-metal fans to wave their lighters and rock back and forth slowly, lost in the moment and not caring at all what happens tomorrow, or five minutes from now.
And the band really does let loose on the 11-minute closer, “The Fire Is Waiting.” These Machines blast away joyfully, proving that they’re capable of both slow burns and raging infernos. And then they’re gone.