As if keen to remain the innocuous background muzak of UK rock, Stereophonics announced their new album on the same day David Bowie dropped his Where Are We Now? A-bomb. An uncharacteristic move because, despite being the most meat-and-potato guitar band in Christendom, Stereophonics have generally dished out an eyebrow-raiser or two per album, be they dollops of exuberant pop (Have a Nice Day) or swathes of synths (Dakota).
True to form, there’s a smattering of redeeming moments on their self-released eighth album: Catacomb, for all its baffling drug references, is a canny slab of Primals motorik scree; with Take Me they attempt to imagine early Radiohead covering Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, minus the cracking chorus and the guitar solo played by Zeus. Then Violins And Tambourines successfully melds the two into a Waitsian voodoo swamp story that might soundtrack a Sopranos season set in New Orleans.
Intriguing stuff, but Stereophonics are incapable of shredding the trad rock rule book for an entire album. So the rest of Graffiti is pitched firmly in their beige rock comfort zone – that anonymous AOR hinterland between Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Bon Jov and plodding-along-in-white-trousers-era Manics.
David Arnold’s keening strings adorn frail and unremarkable frameworks such as Indian Summer and the poor-man’s-Rufus of No-One’s Perfect, songs of insipid romances and limp sex that value mid-paced lushness over melodic hooks and aim to blend unnoticed into radio playlists rather than excite. Another Stereophonics album, then, another half-arsed ‘reinvention’.