Listen through Strand of Oaks' audio-based rock 'n' roll brochure.Dead Oceans, 2017
7.5 / 10
Cypress Hill once sang, “So you wanna be a rock superstar? And live large, a big house, five cars, you’re in charge.” Sounds great, right? Never mind that B-Real follows up that lyric talking about its downfalls. As evident by Hard Love’s lead single, “Radio Kids”, Timothy Showalter wanted nothing more than to be a rock star. On the latest Strand of Oaks album, he captures the experience: the fun and the turmoil. As the follow-up to HEAL, Hard Love marks his second release through Dead Oceans. Showalter maintains his plugged-in approach from HEAL; though, Hard Love is more amplified. The distorted feedback that opens “Everything” says the days of Leave Ruin are long gone.
Riffs are more prevalent on Hard Love. Showalter’s best friend, Jason Anderson, helps a lot in this respect. Says Showalter, “I wanted to bring back the raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA of so many records I love.” He backs it up on several of Hard Love’s songs. “Quit It” starts off on a somber, reflective tone before ramping up into CCR-style bluesy swamp rock. “Rest of It” is a rollicking, tear-down-the-bar rock song. The roaring riffs behind “Everything” brand “badass” onto Showalter’s forehead. The “hard” in the album’s title is not a lie.
Hard also refers to the struggles in Showalter’s life such as his marriage troubles and his brother nearly dying1. The album’s title track basically states that good love is the hardest love to hold onto. But is Showalter referring to his marriage or his career? The delicate piano ballad “Cry” is more direct. Its chorus, “Hey…you’re making me cry,” is devastating. The song abruptly switches to a phone conversation and background noise. On the phone, Showalter tries to have a conversation with his wife. However, the freedom surrounding him is distracting.
Showalter’s brother comes up on the album’s final song. “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” aims for being revelatory but is too long at over seven minutes. Showalter tries to instill a trippy vibe, but it feels bland and is a dull way to end an otherwise good album. Is it fun to be a rock star? It certainly sounds that way. But is it worth it? That’s open for you to decide.