Band Subject to Change
The California-based True Sounds of Liberty, or, as they are better known, T.S.O.L., have been an active band for almost 40 years now. They made their fame with their haunting yet, at times, politically charged hardcore punk, showcasing songs like “Code Blue” off of 1981’s Dance With Me. Anybody who follows T.S.O.L. would say that classifying them under any sort of genre is useless. The band have consistently flipped back and forth between genres such as deathrock, gothic rock and even glam rock. Even 2011’s Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Free Downloads showed shades of rock that resembled the cabaret style of a band like the World/Inferno Friendship Society. With their newest release, The Trigger Complex, T.S.O.L. once again change their aesthetic.
The Trigger Complex follows a really basic classic rock sound. The guitars follow really simple chord progressions without any sort of intricate or complex variety. The lyrics featured on a heavy chunk of this record discuss trying to get with women and reminisce about past lovers. This is a very common theme among rock groups, but when a song like “Why Can’t We Do It Again” is sung by a 55-year-old man, it just comes off as sleazy. Lyrics like, “I remember the good times, the great sex we had / I remember the first night and how it all went so bad,” sound like they come straight from a Sugar Ray song. This under-the-sun vibe follows on the Smash Mouth-style instrumentals in this song. The track sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the classic arena rock songs like “Satellites” and “I Wanted To See You.”
Jack Grisham’s vocals come off as very whiny, especially on tracks like “Don’t You Want Me” and “Give Me More” where he is tries to be a real showman and it backfires. Even on a track like “Satellites,” where the vocal delivery is decent, considering the distorted feature that envelopes Grisham’s voice, the overall track is brought down by background vocals that feel almost hair metal-esque in corniness.
The best track on this record is probably “Nothing Ever Lasts” simply for its impressive drum work. Drummer Chip Hanna barely stops on this track and the addition of violin adds an aspect that had yet to be seen on The Trigger Complex. Also, the guitar solo is one of the few moments on the album at which the instrument leaves a lasting impression.
Tracks such as “Strange World” and “Bats” have haunting characteristics that are different enough from the rest of the album’s material to make them noteworthy. They certainly succeed in being audibly pleasing. “Strange World” has a very impressive bass line that follows the unsettling, whispering vocals from Grisham, while “Bats” is spooky in its gothic-style piano work which overlays the entire instrumental track. The haunting quality cannot be compared to the gothic quality of Dance With Me and Change Today, but it is noteworthy in the context of The Trigger Complex.
Although bands are supposed to adjust over time, the main gripe with T.S.O.L. is that they don’t have any defining qualities because they change their genre so often. Someone who listens to The Trigger Complex who had never listened to T.S.O.L. before would have no idea this was once a hardcore band. The album itself has more in common with KISS than it does with Black Flag. It simply has no binding agent that ties it together as a whole, and it feels more like a collection of rock songs than an album that tells a story.