As the 90's drew to a close, the state of rock music was slipping into a state of decay. It was lazy to conflate all modern rock bands, sentencing them to live under the title 'post-grunge', but there was always a grain of truth to be found in the stereotype. After the grunge movement came and went, the color had been sucked from the palate, and rock music became a bland canvas where every painter assembled their art from the same template.
12 Stones comes from the post-grunge world of rock, which means we know exactly what we're getting before ever hitting the play button. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
There is something to be said for a sense of familiarity, knowing we aren't going to have to duck out of the way of an errant curve ball. But at the same time, if you listen to enough similar music, more of the same can feel as much a chore as an excitement. Diversity is the beauty of music, though it can be hard to find in great supply on rock radio.
“Beneath The Scars” is exactly what I expected it to be, a polished collection of modern radio rock, complete with roaring quasi-riffs and plenty of stabs at arena-sized choruses. “Infected” gets things off to a boilerplate start, with simple blasts of guitars that are nothing more than a backdrop for the vocals, which put just enough grit on to appear tough, but can't help but try to hit the back of an arena when the chorus rolls around. It's not the sort of song that will become a classic, but it's an entertaining kick-start for the album.
Unfortunately, “Bulletproof” follows and ruins the chance to build momentum. The effects layered on the vocals are distracting, and force more attention to go to the underwhelming instrumental parts, which aren't developed enough to carry the song. The chorus doesn't save the song either, trading melody for rhythm, but not supplying one that can capture interest. The string-laden “For The Night” continues the string of false starts, slowing down the record before it can get going, once again using an underdeveloped melody meant to be bigger than it is.
Pacing is a problem for the record, with two of the first five tracks the kind of ballads that many fans regret bands feel the need to write. “That Changes Everything” is well-written, and comes close to evoking emotion, but feels misplaced so close to another similar song, and so close to the start of the enterprise. When another follows just two tracks later, with more yet to come, it's a puzzling decision, as the result is an album that never gains any momentum, and begins to collapse under its own weight. The proliferation of slower songs, when juxtaposed with the more up-tempo rock songs, makes the album feel like a schizophrenic episode. It's almost as though listening to two bands occupying the same piece of vinyl from two different universes.
None of the songs on “Beneath The Scars” are anything less than serviceable, but few rise about the standard of mediocrity to be memorable numbers. Unless the trend is bucked and real riffs are inhabiting the songs, the quality is completely dependent on the vocal. 12 Stones tries valiantly, but the hooks just aren't sharp enough to dig in or cut through the morass of similar bands out there peddling the same material. The album is well-meaning, and well executed, but there's not enough meat on the bone for it to leave a pleasant aftertaste.