Sure, they've become an arena band, at least in their native U.K., but Welsh trio Stereophonics have needed a serious kick in the ass for a while now. It's been extremely frustrating to watch the promise of their vibrant 1997 debut album, Word Gets Around, steadily dissipate via a string of tepid, bloated, just plain boring releases. Whether due to the arrival of new drummer Javier Weyler (he replaces fired founding skinsman Stuart Cable) or a sudden realization of their slide into plodding mediocrity, the Phonics' fifth album finally bursts with that long-missing energy and verve. While Kelly Jones hasn't entirely abandoned his pubbish rasp, the singer-guitarist has turned his voice into quite the versatile instrument; on glammy opener "Superman," for example, he swerves from a falsetto to a lower-register drawl that strangely resembles -- I shit you negative -- Marilyn Manson. Jones employs a similar delivery over Richard Jones's slinky "Pedalpusher" bass groove, but gets fittingly screamier on lively rockers "Doorman" and "Girl." And even when they explore the expansive poppy fields of "Dakota," propelled by bouncy synths and Edge-y guitar chimes, or indulge in a semi-ballad like "Rewind," the passion never flags. Welcome back from the brink, fellas!
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