To sum up Our Lady Peace’s latest studio album Curve in one word, I would have to say – different. But then, throwing their fans a curveball is nothing new for the band. OLP has a history of confounding expectations. Following the overwhelming commercial success of 1997’s Clumsy, the band released the experimental albums Happiness . . . Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch and Spiritual Machines. Over the past decade they have hit gold in Canadian sales with 2002’s Gravity, 2005’s Healthy in Paranoid Times,and 2009’s Burn, Burn, but it has been a tumultuous period for the band, according to an interview with the Canadian Press.
In the piece, OLP frontman Raine Maida notes that a variety of factors almost caused a permanent rift in the band’s twenty-year relationship. However, he says, making Curve signalled a creative turning point for them, and it all comes back down, once again, to experimenting with their sound. A lot of his influence, Maida says, came from revisiting old Peter Gabriel and David Bowie records, but their creative expansion was also aided by the fresh perspective of producer Jason Lader (Maroon 5, Elvis Costello). The feel of the album was also inspired by Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo, whose hard experiences both in and out of the ring seemed to mirror what the band was going through over the past decade. It is the image of Chuvalo as a young man decked out in his boxing gloves and a determined expression that forms the cover of the album.
The result of their latest efforts is a record that blends a mix of styles held together by Maida’s distinctive vocals. An experimental sound, it is an album that begins to coalesce upon repeated listening, but the first impression is definitely a break from their usual fare – if at all they truly have “usual” fare.
The album opens with the dual, de-harmonized vocals of “Allowance,” laid over what sounds like a distorted national anthem in the first few bars. Thematically, the songs run the gauntlet from tracks questioning love and relationships (“Allowance,” “If This Is It”) to battle anthems that bring to mind the recent social and economic upheavals in North America and across the world. On “Fire in the Henhouse,” Maida sings, “There’s fire in the henhouse / Protests in the Deep South / It’s Shangri-La in reverse . . .”
The creative experimentation is evident from the wailing, distorted riffs of “Find Our Way” to the changes of pace and tempo across the record. Mournful piano melodies underscore Maida’s low wail on the balladic “Will Some Day Change.”
On “Window Seat,” reportedly inspired by hours spent staring out of the window while on tour, the thrumming guitars give the song a grinding, long-journey feel. Lyrically it sounds like a bleak description of the way the daily grind of living can wear one down.
There is some traditional-sounding fare on the record, such as the thrumming bassline and catchy hand claps underscoring the fast-paced tempo of “As Fast As You Can,” although it still focuses on the difficulties of life – the song is about a relationship breaking apart.
However, it is Chuvalo’s life and legend that pervades the sense of this album. On “Heavyweight,” the single currently leading the charge on radio and other music outlets, the grinding basslines and steady drumbeat drive a desperate, determined song outlining the struggle to stay grounded when everything is being shaken loose around you: “When all these walls come down, they’ll shake us / We fight not to be, not to be weightless.”
Having gone through a number of tumultuous life events (three of his sons died via suicide or addiction, and his first wife also took her own life) Chuvalo is reportedly the thematic focus because of his fighting spirit both inside and outside the ring. On the final track of the album, “Mettle,” a simple plucked guitar melody, accompanied by a lone voice singing are overlaid by the voice of someone speaking. This is Chuvalo himself, interviewed by Maida at the former pugilist’s home.
“The worst thing in the world is to be in a fight and get tired. You don’t want to get tired in a fight,” he says on the track, words that could be a testament to his enduring determination in life. However, the emotional punch that is present in a lot of the lyrics is also underscored by a statement he says at the end: “One of the most important things in life is to have people who care about you and who you care about. . . . Love is the magic word, it is. If it wasn’t for love, I wouldn’t be here today.”
All in all, the divergent styles present on the album converge into a sound that is, according to Maida, a cohesive result of their collective expression as a band. If that’s the case, then Curve just might be the blueprint for what’s coming next for Our Lady Peace.
02. Fire in the Henhouse
04. Window Seat
05. As Fast As You Can
06. If This Is It
07. Will Someday Change
08. Find Our Way
Find out more about Our Lady Peace, including tour information, free downloads and where to purchase the new album, click here.