Attention Attention is not an album I really expected to be reviewing, but yet I find myself here doing so. For reference, I have heard of Shinedown for a long time, even longer than they have been known by a lot of the music public outside of the rock radio sectors that still love Post-Grunge to this day. See, Shinedown is basically in the same camp as bands like Nickelback, Staind, Daughtry, and Foo Fighters, all of whom have maintained a relatively constant popularity in Oklahoma, where I live, and places like it. As a result, I have known of Shinedown from their Leave a Whisper days, long before I paid close attention to music at all. Still, I actually liked them, and when “Second Chance” was a crossover hit, I listened to The Sound of Madness a great deal and actually liked it. However, the song “Bully,” lead single off Amaryllis, the follow-up to The Sound of Madness, was awful enough to turn me off from the band in a pretty major way. The single “Unity” that came out right after was also terrible, and it was around this time that I stopped listening to local FM radio pretty much entirely. As a result, I had not heard from Shinedown since. However, this album and its relatively positive critical reception got me curious as to what the band was doing now.
While I have not listened to their fifth album, Threat to Survival, to know if they were already headed in this direction, what I can say is that Attention Attention is the lightest, most pop-oriented release I personally have ever heard from the band. What is also interesting to note is that Shinedown, who have always been a bit abstract and thematic in their music, decided here that they would double down on both attributes by making this a concept album. What is the concept, you might ask? As well as I can tell, it is about a person overcoming negativity in his/her thoughts and learning to have positivity. It really is that simple, though I will give Attention Attention this: it worked well enough that it did indeed gain my attention and keep it. One of Shinedown’s biggest problems was that they were shooting really high with their lyrics, going for something inspirational and meaningful, but shooting low musically by wholeheartedly giving into musical stereotypes that have plagued mainstream rock since the 90’s. While this album promises to be different, it is still very much in the hard rock realm, and it is the exception when they truly sound like they are moving into new territory, not the rule.
The album begins, appropriately enough, with “The Entrance,” basically nothing other than a slight introduction to the idea that this album will be a concept album. There is no music, but instead a series of sounds spelling out a specific moment in time. The video for “Devil” shows how these events go down, and that song is a direct continuation as a result. The hard rock and metal vibe to “Devil” is perfectly clear, with little room for misunderstanding what is going on. In fact, I will just state it here so that it does not really need to be said again: Shinedown are extremely direct on this album about what they want to say. There is not much picture painting here to make a person think, but rather a bunch of statements meant to guide the listener along the train of thought Shinedown (or perhaps the person in the concept album) are already having.
The next few songs are where things get interesting. “Black Soul,” the title track, and “Kill Your Conscious” actually carry a sort of lightness thanks to incredibly poppy textures. “Kill Your Conscious” in particular would not feel out of place if it was considered a synthpop song, which is an incredible shift for the band. Still, given how this is from the first half of the album which is meant to the negativity-influenced part of the record, there are darker sounds thanks to a willingness to play around with melodies that shift back and forth between major and minor scales. This keeps each song from becoming melodramatic, yet also gives them an appropriate amount of dramatic weight within the overall work. Interestingly enough, also, it works. The band did not simply bring in pop influences in a way that sounds contrary to the band’s style and intent, nor does it feel haphazardly done. Somehow, Shinedown has managed to make the seemingly impossible happen: be a long-term hard rock, metal band and release pop songs that among their best written work. After this run of pop-oriented songs, we get another decent track in “Pyro,” though it is ultimately unremarkable except for how it is an “angry man” song that sounds appropriately placed.
Unfortunately, though, if the previous trio I mentioned all have their similarities that make them pretty good, “Monster,” “Darkside,” and “Creatures” are all abysmally bad for reasons that are common to each. The first problem is the lyrics. If the song titles are any indication, each of the three songs suffers from horrible lyrics due to their overabundance of tired cliches that remove any amount of seriousness I could have had listening to the songs. For example, in “Monsters,” the chorus has the line “My monsters are real and their trained how to kill,” which falls so flat with his hokey delivery. The second major problem is that each song is musically cheesy, giving in to the worst cliches of sound that they possibly could have. The worst offender of the three in this regard is probably “Darkside,” which literally has a chorus start with “Welcome to the party” and switches its fast paced, arena rock (which also sounded out of place, for the record) to a circus music breakdown of the previous sound before switching back once the chorus was over. This makes the song an absolute mess, and the closest I came on the entire album to leaving it. No doubt, this is the worst run of songs on the record, by far.
The album reaches its bright half starting at the song “Evolve,” and while the quality does not come way up here or on the next song “Get Up,” there is a noticeable attempt at trying something other than arena rock while still maintaining cohesion. Unfortunately, the lyrical cliches sap a lot of the power here, but I found the “evolution” from the song “Evolve” to be unique enough and conveyed well enough to pass and actually be a pretty good work-around. From here, the rest of the album is pretty high quality, as Shinedown find an interesting perspective for their brighter side on positivity. “Special” is a synth-led, rather emotional song which inverts expectations about what it means to be special. They say that no one is really special, not to discourage but to encourage. The people who are successful had and have problems like all of us, and by the same token it is not our responsibility to be some kind of savior to everyone else. We are just a normal person, and Shinedown does well in revealing what is good about that, making for the best song on the album. “Human Radio” is probably the strongest of the singles out so far, managing to accomplish its clear goal of being an anthem for people about staying grounded and connected to humanity. Its the one spot on the album where the arena rock stylings Shinedown tries actually works to their advantage. Finally, “Brilliant” starts soft to deliver a message about how all of us are brilliant in our own way, then goes out with a bang of opitmism and positivity. I am not sure I liked the pop punk guitars here, but it was a long ways away from the circus show in “Darkside.”
Attention Attention is no masterpiece, but it certainly is a step up. I had a lot of problems with this album which came up repeatedly as a listened to song after song. Now, I know I speak about cliches a lot, since they bother me quite a bit when I hear them done badly impress me when they are done well. Overall, their place on Attention Attention is more bad than good, but at least there are attempts being made to make a concept that goes beyond simple shallowness for me to take too much away because of them. What really goes against this album is that it fails to be compelling overall because the quality is far too inconsistent. For every “The Devil” there is a “Monsters,” and for every “Special” there is a “Darkside,” and these low points have been more memorable to me than even most of the high points. I think the album did a great job of beginning and ending well, but the middle part where things get less black and white make little to no sense as they go about. In fact, Shinedown tends to be so blunt yet abstracted about their messaging that I almost feel like there was no gray area at all. It is not as though Attention Attention is some sort of amazing concept album that it will get a lot of favorable comparisons to The Wall or The Downward Spiral, but it does its best and I believe the themes being played out between tracks ultimately raise it from being below average, but not any more than that.