If you come into a Blue October album expecting anything other than pure emotion being poured out of the mouth of lead singer Justin Furstenfeld, you’re in the wrong place.
This “emo” style of writing and singing has caused the band to be received awfully by many in the music business, but has also gained them a fan base of extremely devoted followers. With their new LP, Approaching Normal, the Houston rockers have put nothing new on the table to convince the naysayers otherwise, but they’ve also done nothing to alienate their fans. Essentially, they’re in the same place they were before the release, which in this business is almost always a negative. Furstenfeld does have moments of nearing “normal” on the album; however, some tracks take us to a very dark first person fiction that shows those times in the mental institution have not quite yet left him behind.
Opening the album up is the introspective “Weight of the World”. The track was previously released on the live effort, Argue With A Tree. It will still sound very familiar to the die-hard’s but the tune has greatly increased in volume and intensity. The inclusion of orchestral parts, on top of violin player Ryan Delahoussaye bring a more epic feel to the track. Furstenfeld delivers one of his best vocal performances of the album here, switching back and forth between whispering, singing and screaming his parts out. If your not a fan of what you hear from the band on this track, there isn’t a whole lot else that’s going to change your mind.
Upcoming single, “Say It”, features the normal format for a rocking track from the band. Guitar player C.B. Hudson delivers a fairly average performance over Furstenfeld’s anti-relationship lyrics, “Was there an “S” on my chest? / Well I confess, you were too much stress / I’d have a heart attack at best.” The song definitely follows up well on current single, “Dirt Room”.
The single is the first of those aforementioned “darker” tracks, which feature Furstenfeld living out his first murder fantasy of the album. The heavy breathing over Hudson’s light strumming throughout the song makes for an interesting listen. Delahoussaye’s violin playing really stands out here for the first time, which is a plus of the track. If you are planning to take someone hostage, or are just pissed off, this track should definitely be at the top of your list.
“Been Down”, follows up with a softer tone, musically and lyrically. A piano joins the mix as Furstenfeld sings out, “I dreamed you seduced me just to walk away.” Big brother of the lead singer, Jeremy Furstenfeld holds the track together, where there is otherwise nothing very special about the track. The violin once again really stands out as it should in the band, and finds Furstenfeld hoping for the best, “I wish that only greatness follow you around / I hope to god you keep from down.” Next is the seemingly obligatory dance track that seems to pop up on every alternative record lately. “Should Be Loved”, feels out of place, though going with live drums was definitely the correct choice. Jeremy Furstenfeld really pounds away and keeps up with the tracks rapid pace, and an overdose of symbol.
Maybe someone could help me out with this next one as I’m not at all sure what a “Kangaroo Cry” is, but it certainly doesn’t make for an above average song. Lyrically, the song features fairly political themes with lines like, “How long will we have to sing until you finally bring our sons, our daughters home? / We’ll let the prayers start healing, what time’s been stealing.” The song may hit hard for military families, however musically the song features nothing out of the ordinary. There’s really no reason to listen to it more than once.
The song combines with following track “Picking up Pieces”, to tell the tale of a soldier leaving for war. “Picking up Pieces” however is the opposite of “Kangaroo Cry” musically, it is a catchy track that sounds like a happy tune, but lyrically still finds Furstenfeld in that dark place that is hard for him to escape, “I’ll be as honest as I feel, I’m getting more paranoid and I’m hearing things and they never turn out real.” “Jump Rope” finds Furstenfeld giving fatherly advice, and coming from a history of bi-polar disorder, he should know as well as anyone that, “you have to hold your head up high and watch all the negative go by.” The track is fun, bouncy, and though it sounds like a elementary school game, is a great listen.
“Blue Skies” finally finds our ever-depressed lead singer ready to, “leave the past in the past.” Thank god for that. Again on the fatherly kick, Furstenfeld continues, “I want to smile so big my daughter jumps into my lap and I wanna tell her daddy’s fine.” With the cheerful violin, bouncing guitar parts, and keyboard thrown in, the track doesn’t exactly make up for the overall mediocrity of the album, but it does put a new face (and new future) in front of the band.
There’s no beating around the bush on “Blue Does”, which is a lullaby for his daughter Blue Furstenfeld, born in 2007. The track is sweet, and the simple structure feels fitting compared to the normal intensity behind the band. Furstenfeld croons to his daughter, “She’s the answer to the silence…she’s my sound.” The version of the album you receive will change the outcome of your listen. The censored version includes, “Graceful Dancing”. Which will close your experience out again feeling more hopeful, and less worried about Furstenfeld’s mental state. He sings out, “You’re a superstar on your own and I’m looking over your shoulder getting older and god only knows.”
The extremely explicit “The End” will, rightfully, close out your experience on the uncensored version. The song is so dark it will make you feel guilty after the track is over. The story of the song places you in the shoes of a man coming home to see his wife cheating on him. Naturally, he breaks into the house, and puts an end to the fun. With his voice shaking and filled with rage, Furstenfeld scarily screams, “I know I’m not allowed to be here / I just had to see how good your new man really fucks you / Cause you both been fucking me.” It all goes downhill from there as the violin builds, the drums grow, and Furstenfeld becomes more and more infuriated. As the song comes to an end, “I gently stroke her arm as she lies lifeless on her back / then placed the barrel in my mouth / all I saw was black.” This album is as schizophrenic as the band has remained over the years.
Mostly in place since 1995, the guys seem to have found where they are comfortable musically, and don’t have much intention on leaving there. Furstenfeld however seems to have had new life breathed into him with the birth of his daughter. Maybe in the future this will continue to help the band diversify their sound. For now, Approaching Normal merely approaches average.