Inspiration can come from difficult times in our lives, even from the passing away of a loved one.
The latest album from the Stereophonics, “Graffiti on the Train,” was influenced by at least two deaths. Perhaps that is why every song on the album is tinged by a certain sadness and reflection.
Stuart Cable, the band’s drummer, died in 2010 and this is the band’s first release since. His absence is felt in the soulful, soul-searching tone of the album, even though no direct lyrical reference is made to his passing.
One song on the album was actually written with Amy Winehouse in mind. Kelly Jones, the lead vocalist and songwriter of the band, wrote the track “Been Caught Cheating” when thinking of Winehouse’s troublesome love life.
Jones did chat with Winehouse about the song he had written with her in mind, but she passed away before it was recorded and never got to hear it.
The dedicated track is bluesy and sad, like most others on the album, but is noticeably different in its styling, sound and simple instrumentation. The rest of the album mainly has a “big” sound that comes from the use of a full orchestra.
“We Share the Same Sun” offers a nice opening to the album, with a mesmerizing solo guitar backing Jones’s vocals before giving way to the more familiar full-band sound of alternative rock.
It’s a classy, skilled opener that is followed by the title track, which also has a big sound. The orchestral backing and deeply sorrowful tone of the track sets the scene for this album. The Stereophonics have matured and become much more melancholy.
The third track on the album suggests that the band members have matured perhaps more than they would want — “Indian Summer” sounds like something that the all-star veteran group The Traveling Wilburys might have recorded.
“Indian Summer” is more upbeat than most tracks on the album, but the next one quickly sets things back on a darker trail.
“Take Me” is a gloomy, brooding song that almost falls into the category of goth rock. It is beguiling yet appealing. A more rock ’n’ roll sound returns in the next track, “Catacomb,” which could easily be a Led Zeppelin number. Whatever rock style is adopted though, all of this is good listening.
At times there is beauty, as in “Violins and Tambourines,” a simple piece involving strumming guitars and quiet vocals with a hazy feel reminiscent of the Doors. It is only in the latter half of the song that the orchestration kicks in with an anthem-like vibe. It may not be hugely original but it is effective stuff.
From beginning to end, the album is a pleasure, if a generally melancholy one. The end of the album comes in the form of a song that is deeply introspective. It is not hard to imagine the lighters waving in the audience when this track is performed live. “No One’s Perfect” is a song that could well have many listeners close to tears.
All round, “Graffiti on the Train” comes off as a cleverly written and produced album. Sure, it may be less than original and occasionally contrived — some songs sound as if they have been written to a formula to move the listener — but it still makes for a polished musical exploration of sadness and good sounds.