• Light and shade in equal parts - A review of The 69 Eyes' "Universal Monsters"

    The 69 Eyes - Universal Monsters (2016)

    The 69 Eyes' eleventh studio album is quite a mixed bag. The band offers smooth gothic rock as usual but the redundant predictability isn't even the issue here. The problem is that the band is missing the oomph that made their records released a decade ago quite popular and got the quintet some international mainstream success. The band failed to build upon this popularity and has stepped back into the shadows. The last four albums have become constantly weaker and the band has probably reached the bottom here. Only faithful fans and extensive gothic rock collectors should get their hands on ''Universal Monsters''.

    Everybody knows that the opening song always has a massive impact on the way people are judging the entire release. Most rock bands decide to kick things off with some oomph but The 69 Eyes chose to put one of the worst tracks on the record first and even selected that tune as second single. ''Dolce Vita'' is not only predictable but also lackluster and quite the opposite of its title. The conservative and muddy production doesn't help either. Next!

    The first single and second track ''Jet Fighter Plane" tries to improve things by adding radio sound effects, catchy backing shouts and a more diversified vocal performance but all these things can't hide that the song structure itself is also quite exchangeable and suffers from a production that is so smooth that it's nearly sleep-inducing.

    The band offers many tracks like those that sound like pale copies of similar The 69 Eyes tracks recorded more than a decade ago. ''Stiv & Johnny'' tries to add an Americanized country rock feeling but suffers from a theatrical vocal performance and exchangeably conventional song structure.

    ''Blue'' is the usual gothic ballad that sounds so smooth that it should rather be called a lullaby. The instrumental performance is numbing and the lyrics are extremely repetitive. The song focuses mostly on the vocals that aren't spectacular enough to carry the song.

    It's hard to believe that those songs come from a band that was able to write atmospheric yet engaging openers like ''Framed in Blood'', smooth and danceable hits like ''Dance d'Amour'', cool rockers like ''Perfect Skin'' and epic gothic ballads like ''Sister of Charity''. The lack of new ideas and the predictable song writing can't be excused by a production that is missing edges and a modern twist. 

    To be fair, there are also a few solid tunes on here that save the album from being a complete failure. The best track on this album might be the danceable rock 'n roll tune ''Miss Pastis'' that tells a nice story, includes a few folk sounds and even some French lyrics. Even the low vocals sound charismatic and charming for once. Only this song should have been chosen as single from that album.

    The dramatic Western rocker ''Shallow Graves'' convinces with a cool chorus, some nice guitar work and a few decently integrated country sounds supported by atmospheric sound samples. This tune could come straight from the soundtrack of a Western movie. Quentin Tarantino should take some notes here.

    The album's longest songs are also above average. ''Jerusalem'' convinces with an epic atmosphere, beautiful melodies, a perfect use of all involved instruments and a relaxed chorus. This track is definitely the hidden pearl on the record and a true grower.

    Finally, one should mention ''Blackbird Pie'' which is one of the band's longest Songs ever with a running time of six minutes. This track also has a Western vibe integrated into a concept combining acoustic guitars and symphonic sounds. The Native American folk section in the middle part is a highlight on the album. The track might be a minute or two too long to be really great but is by far the band's most creative tune on the album. 

    As you can see, there is a lot of light and shade on the album that includes four awful tracks, four really good songs and three average tunes in between both extremes. My advice to occasional fans would be to download the good tracks and ignore the disappointing rest. For those who aren't familiar with the band yet, I wouldn't suggest to discover The 69 Eyes with that record but with the detailed compilation ''The Best of Helsinki Vampires'' released less than three years ago. If you insist on buying a regular studio output, I would recommend the band's greatest commercial success to date called ''Devils''.

    Final verdict: 50%

    « Light and shade in equal parts - A review of The 69 Eyes' "Universal Monsters"Heavenly passion - A review of Stryper's "Second Coming" »
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