Album Review: Saliva - "In It To Win It"

Confession time, kids. I have long been, since my college days, a closet Saliva fan. I hear the rampant, frothing criticism already – ‘Drew, that’s less metal (and therefore worse,) than your general support for the mainstream Five Finger Death Punch and the cupcake that is Sick Puppies.’ I know. I get it. Bear with me. Just like those other two bands, Saliva has long distinguished themselves by being able to execute a quality formula for pop metal (if I can call it that.) while maintaining a certain credible edge. With that in mind, we venture forth into “In It to Win It.”

Following the departure of Josey Scott, who left Saliva to begin a solo Christian music career, Saliva contracted the services of new vocalist Bobby Amaru to try and not only maintain the legacy of the band, but add a new dimension. The remaining members of Saliva are showing a tremendous amount of trust in a new singer as they forge ahead. Keep that in mind and we’ll come back to it later.

Let’s face a stark truth; Saliva has always been a singles band. Not given to prolific storytelling or musical exploration, Saliva has always presented their best arguments in four minute bites, each record being possessed of one or two such successes. These memorable hooks and tunes in turn have floated each individual album, standing out from the greater track listing to shape the identity of Saliva.

“In It to Win It” only hits on one such believable blockbuster single, which is the title track. The song presents the customary infectious bravado that so reflected the attitude of timeless classics like “Ladies and Gentlemen.” For a moment, we’re reminded as listeners of the greatest moments of the band’s past, as this cut belongs among the elite of their greatest hits album “Moving Forward in Reverse.”

Aside from that, something is wrong in camp Saliva. There has long been a thin but audible line between Saliva-the-veritable-metal-force and the worst case scenario, which was always feared to be Saliva-that-sounds-like-Theory-of-a-Deadman. If “In It to Win It” doesn’t see Saliva cross that line, it certainly sees them jumping up and down on it with abandon.

This is most closely represented by the three minute sleaze of “Flesh,” a song high on in-your-face sexual sentiments and low on subtlety or craft. It hits the listener over the head with callous intent, forsaking innuendo for crude articulation. As a side note, the core line of the chorus is “I want your flesh,” which is grubby enough, but in certain instances it sounds like Amaru says “I want your fudge,” which is way, way, way worse.

The mistake of “Flesh” would have been easy to gloss over if the rest of the album had come up roses. The album loaded with songs that were set up to be bombastic Saliva hits, but there’s something missing. The riffs don’t seem to hammer in the same way; the music isn’t as gleefully destructive or concussive. It’s difficult to accurately describe what’s missing, because it’s an attitudinal aspect, not necessarily a musical one. “Redneck Freakshow” and “She Can Sure Hide Crazy” both top this list, and people tracking the arc of Saliva’s career will be able to hear the gaps that Scott would have filled. Regardless, the end result is tuneful enough, but lacks the solid right cross that separated Saliva from the common denizens of mainstream radio metal.

A sizable chunk of what’s missing from the equation is the charismatic enthusiasm which the departed Scott brought to the table. He bit off his lyrics with an everyman’s tone and growl, something Amaru can’t replicate. His voice is smooth and easy to digest, lacking in grit. In Amaru’s defense, he is a good, polished vocalist and there’s nothing inherently wrong with his performance. Also, it’s not his job to sound like Scott, nor should it be; he has every right to be his own musician and comfortable in his own performing skin. It’s just that his particular style seems a crooked fit in the pattern of what made Saliva a success.

“In It to Win It” feels, dare I say, corporate. Saliva fans will want to spin it to see if they hear something I might have missed. All others should approach the album with caution.

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