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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Review: Rogue Wave: "Permalight"

Rogue Wave sure have been taking their fans on a ride!  The better part of a decade ago, Zach Rogue was recording a handful of songs that eventually became a debut album; one that was understated and similar (some would say) to early Elliott Smith.  It was good stuff!  The sophomore album featuring a full band?  Even better!  Then Rogue Wave started to change up their sound a bit.  Asleep at Heaven's Gate had a few solid tracks on it, but the music was a far cry from the grace and brilliance of what was being made by Rogue just a few years prior.  Well fans, it's time to embrace for change once again, because Permalight is unlike anything the band has ever made before.  Its unabashed mainstream pop-rock stylings may be off-putting to a lot of the die hard Rogue Wavers out there, but it sure is difficult to fault the band for sitting back and resting on their laurels.

Don't let Permalight's humble beginning fool you.  This album is simply bursting with an energy that we've rarely heard from Rogue Wave.  There are certainly moments in the past (think "Endless Shovel" or "10:1") where Rogue let loose and made a rock song, but it was never as prevalent as it is here.  So sure, lead-off "Solitary Gun" starts off quaint and sweet, but by the time the chorus rolls around you're listening to a joyful, acoustic guitar-led singalong that few bands would attempt to match.  Still, this song could pass for this album's "Lake Michigan," so there's nothing to really get worked up about.

Not until track 2, that is.  "Good Morning (The Future)" is an electronic drum-backed pop song with obvious throwbacks to the overtly romantic music of The Postal Service; albeit with a more distorted, harsher sound.  If there's a song on Permalight that draws the proverbial line in the sand for longtime fans, this is the one.  Personally, I love it!  Rogue's voice has always been suited to pop music, and "Good Morning" is a great pop song, with a brilliant and inescapable dance groove.  It just works.  Title track, "Permalight," is equally unashamed about it's sound; though it's a much nicer, accessible song to those with milder tastes.  It's a Franz Ferdinand song blended with some 80s pop flair that isn't completely obvious, but still noticeable.

Rogue Wave still tones things down though from time to time, and the result is as perfect as it has always been.  "Sleepwalker" is a gorgeous song, and Rogue's vocal melody is entrancing as his voice hits some pretty high notes (both in the verse and chorus).  It's one of Permalight's standout tracks, and if it weren't for the excellent production values, it could easily pass for something off of Out of the Shadow.  "I'll Never Leave You" is equally toned-down, and it's sweet, relatable lyrics make for a decent listen.

If I may speak honestly, I'd like to note that I really didn't like Asleep at Heaven's Gate.  It started off well enough, but after "Christians in Black," the album took a huge nosedive in quality.  So I understand what it's like to be disappointed by a Rogue Wave album.  Perhaps expectedly, I went into my first listen of Permalight expecting very little.  What I got was a fun album, that I think I'll be listening to for a while.  There are very few songs on the album that sound like the Rogue Wave I fell in love with 6 years ago, but there's still plenty to love about it.  I can see how people could be disappointed with what they hear, and true, the band can get a little too Vertical Horizon-y for me here and there; but Permalight is a step forward for Rogue Wave, if not a step in the right direction.  Hearing a band evolve can be either scary or exciting.  Fortunately, I think that Zach Rogue and Co. have made something to get excited about.  So get excited, and give it a fair shot.  There's a lot to love here!

Key Tracks:
1. "Solitary Gun"
2. "Good Morning (The Future)"
3. "Sleepwalker"
4. "Stars and Stripes"
5. "Right With You"

7 out of 10 Stars

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