Look, it's far too easy to be plain mean about Stereophonics, but the title of the Welsh band's seventh album is an open goal. Taken from the recently popularised Second World War propaganda poster, the phrase reeks of ambition-free, meat and potatoes, join-the-dots rock; they might just as well have called it Meh! or Shrug. But enough negativity. It's no mystery what makes Stereophonics so popular: Kelly Jones's instantly recognisable Velcro rasp and his ability to write robust little rock songs with big hooks.
Stereophonics have made a career out of stringing together cliches and turning them into workaday, meat-and-potatoes rock – so the references on this new album, from Sting ("Every little thing you do is magic"), Canadian indie rock ("Tragically Hip"), Oasis and the Stones, chunder along with inbred familiarity. However, like 2003's electronic-based Dakota, their seventh album works when it breaks the mould – the terrific Fall-meets-Glitter stomp of I Got Your Number, Trouble's rampaging punk-pop and Innocent's surprisingly thoughtful pop. For anyone traumatised by the switching course of rock's most wearily reliable band, Stuck in a Rut offers business as usual, with such reliable old chestnuts as "set your soul on fire" and "you'll never walk alone".
Awakening from the slick slumber of 2007’s Pull the Pin, Stereophonics team up with Jim Abbiss for 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On, hoping the producer of Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, and the Music can liven them up a little bit. Abbiss does strip away the gloss that mummified Pull the Pin, guiding Stereophonics toward something a little more straightforward, where their Oasis obsessions are upgraded to a declawed Monkeys, the U2 swapped for Coldplay. While the relatively stripped-down setting winds up accentuating Kelly Jones’ status as a pretty boy frontman -- he sings with precision, not aggression -- it does let the rockers of the album’s first half latch in, particularly the rather propulsive “Trouble,” the nimble “She’s Alright,” and rolling “I Got Your Number,” and does keep the succession of anthems and ballads on the second half from seeming too languid.
Possibly the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of no nonsense Britrock – usually in a negative light – Stereophonics are a curious group. It’s easy to dismiss them as turgid or plodding, but they can occasionally create a truly fantastic single, such as the nostalgic rush of their early hit ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, or the synthy-pop of ‘Dakota’. However, more often than not, the Welsh band will follow such moments of surprise with a return to their familiar, plodding ways.