Compact Review: Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color

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Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Rating: 79/100
Released: April 21, 2015

Sophomore albums are heartbreakers. Usually things go one of two ways:

1. Indie Band A releases awesome debut album. Humans everywhere love it. Sweet new sound has proven to be commercially and critically viable. With full support of label, Indie Band A enters studio with the goal of recreating the magic of debut album. Indie Band A succeeds at replicating sound and feel of debut album. Hype builds around release and Album #2 sells many copies in the first week but people aren’t dumb and they realize Album #2 is just Album #1, Part 2.  Ultimately, album #2 is decent and people enjoy it but it isn’t the same. Fans weep for poor Indie Band A who seem to have run out of ideas after only one album.

OR

2. Indie Band B releases awesome debut album. Humans everywhere love it. Sweet new sound has proven to be commercially and critically viable. Indie band is terrified of being Indie Band A (aka The Strokes). With full support of label, band enters studio with the goal of reinventing themselves to be even more commercially and critically viable. Indie Band B has too many new toys in the studio and too many producers. Hype builds around release and Album #2 sells many copies in the first week but people aren’t dumb and they realize Indie Band B sold out and forgot what made them so interesting and fun in the first place. Fans weep for poor Indie Band B who seem to have tried too hard, too soon to reinvent themselves for a larger audience.

Second albums are notoriously perilous territory but with Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes have performed admirably. Sound & Color is not a reissue of their fantastic debut Boys & Girls, nor is it a reinvention of The Alabama Shakes Sound. It’s a meticulous, calculated step forward. It’s more focused and less reckless than their debut which pays off often and disappoints occasionally. There is a more austere tone present on Sound & Color but it seems intentional. Determined not to waste this new opportunity, Brittany Howard & co. have buckled down and delivered a mature and thoughtful record.

The biggest problem with Sound & Color, is that it lacks the euphoric wildness of their first album. While the band occasionally cuts loose on tracks like “Miss You”, “The Greatest” and the superb single “Don’t Wanna Fight”, much of the album has a cloud of overwrought purposefulness hanging over it. The band tries to wring meaning out of every note and it gets a little exhausting at times. Its as if the band was fully aware of what their audience wanted and expected, and feeling as though they were capable of a bit more, they aimed just a little left of that target. Sound & Color at no point feels like a misfire; this is exactly the record they wanted to make. It’s a shame it isn’t more fun but then again maybe the only problem with Sound & Color is my own expectation.

Whether its the record I wanted or not, Sound & Color is a quality release from a band with a very high ceiling. Second albums can make or break a band and though I don’t love this record, I love the approach they took in creating it. I’ve always been a sucker for artists who strive to be more than they are and Sound & Color is the sound of a promising band pushing their artistry to a new level.

Top Tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight”, “Gimme All Your Love”, “Miss You”

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