Album Review: Alter Bridge - "AB III"
Let me start with a compliment to Alter Bridge. Although they will likely always share an inseparable bond with Creed, they have managed with this new effort to emerge from that other band’s shadow. Some of that comes from the lack of allegedly righteous pretension that has bloated Creed’s legacy, but much of it comes from a musical edge that Creed continues to lack.
While the production of “AB III” is radio friendly, and the overall sound is somewhat overwrought, it's not because the band was coached in that direction. Unlike so many of their mass-produced and digestible cousins, Alter Bridge seems to be very earnest in their effort. The emotion is natural and believable, and the songs are played with an honest musician's conviction. In truth, I think that the easily absorbable sound is the exact tone that the band was going for, rather than so many other acts who are molded in that idiom.
As a trained metal listener might have expected, the fault of "AB III" lies not necessarily in the music or in the band, but in the production. There is the potential that this album could have had some teeth, but instead all the rough patches where hammered flat into sheets and buffed to a high shine. The resulting product is too antiseptic to retain any visceral or earthy qualities.
That doesn’t mean “AB III” holds zero value; it just means you have to be prepared to sift through a lot of peerless, super squeaky production. What could have been a marginally forceful and bombastic effort is certainly grandiose in execution, but is too sharp and lacks in power. Really, Alter Bridge could have filled the shoes of Collective Soul with “AB III,” but in the end doesn’t have the gravelly-blues gravitas necessary for taking that mantle.
Myles Kennedy’s vocals for the album are not quite on register with the rest of the band’s musicianship. He tries a number of styles, from a near rip of Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale at the outset to a grittier, smoother rumble for “Life Must Go On” and “Words Darker Than Their Wings.”
If “AB III” has another major sin, it is that it’s too damn long. The fourteen cuts feel like a marathon when listened to end to end. While the album starts at a nice clip with “Slip to the Void” and “Isolation,” the rollercoaster bottoms out around the seventh track, and the bright spots on the back half get lost. “Coeur d’Alene” has a nice metal hook and a competent gallop, but the listener might have given up by then.
All that said, there are some rewards for giving “AB III” a chance. Mart Tremonti’s guitar licks are smooth, and his playing ability is nicely adaptable. His solos in “Isolation” and “All Hope is Gone” are good quality, as is his talent for stepping into the lead, and then falling back to support the rhythm. His playing is the brightest star on an album of figurative cloudiness.
“AB III” has some pleasant distractions and has a high ceiling for commercial success, but too many of the songs are overproduced and fail to stand with any kind of authority. Despite Alter Bridge’s musical progress, honesty and their emergence from under the weight of their former selves, this new album falls short of capturing the imagination of the listener.