Candlebox – Disappearing in Airports
Label: Pavement Entertainment
Release Date: April 22, 2016
As a child of the 90’s I’ve watched several of the bands I grew up listening to struggle for relevance well past their halcyon days. For every band like Pearl Jam—who continue to sell out stadiums around the world a full 25 years into their career—there are another 10 bands that have been relegated to the dust heap by time and progress. As a fan it can be a painful process to watch, particularly when it seems obvious to everyone but the band itself that nobody is really paying much attention anymore. This phenomenon is amplified when it applies to bands that come to prominence within specifically defined movements such as the “grunge” scene that exploded out of the Pacific Northwest in the early 90’s. A band born of such an era not only has to compete with the detrimental effects that time itself can have on creativity, it also has to navigate the incredibly tricky world of nostalgia. And while there are many bands who seem perfectly comfortable with the notion of existing in the relative safety of a familiar sound, others spend the remainder of their career attempting to escape the very boundaries that brought them success. In either case, the path is a perilous one where only a select few seem to truly find their way.
Formed in late 1990, Candlebox emerged from the turbulent Seattle scene with the 1993 release of their self-titled debut. Garnering significant airplay thanks to hit singles “You”, “Far Behind, and Cover Me”, the album eventually achieved Platinum status 4 times over. Their second full-length, Lucy, followed in 1995, and although it produced the hit single “Simple Lessons”, it marked the beginning of the end of the commercial success the band had enjoyed to that point. The rest of the 90’s were no less kind to Candlebox as their third release, 1998’s Happy Pills, failed to gain a foothold amid the schizophrenic rock music landscape that dominated the post-grunge era of the mid-to-late 90’s. Amid contract disputes, the band eventually fell apart. In 2006 a “Best Of” compilation was released which served as the spark for a rekindling of the band, with the majority of the original lineup intact. Sporadic tours and two new releases (2008’s Into the Sun and 2012’s Love Stories & Other Musings) would follow, as band members came and went and side projects were explored. Eventually the calendar turned to 2016—marking a full 25 years since the band’s formation—which brings us to Candlebox’s latest release entitled Disappearing in Airports.
Kevin Martin isn’t likely to be mentioned alongside the likes of Cornell, Vedder, Staley, or Cobain when it comes to prominent voices of the 90’s Seattle scene. But as much as any of those aforementioned vocalists, Martin’s voice is distinct and recognizable, yet it is perhaps the only tangible link to that bygone era for the modern incarnation of Candlebox which I would suggest actually works in their favor. Disappearing in Airports kicks off with “Only Because of You”, featuring gentle and articulate guitar work that allows Martin to casually sneak in through the back door before unmasking his unmistakable vocal signature 30 seconds in. As the song breaks into the first chorus, it become immediately clear that the band has eschewed the raw sound of their earlier recordings and opted for a lush and layered sonic delivery. The production (helmed by Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland) feels deliberate in its intent to push the Candlebox sound into a new era. It’s the sort of shift that can divide a fanbase if not well executed, but Candlebox have pulled it off with ease here, mainly because the album is jam-packed with really great songs. The album features a good number of urgent rockers (lead-single “Vexatious”, “I’ve Got a Gun”, “Crazy, God’s Gift”), but it’s the slow burning jams that are the highlight of this record for me. Songs like the aforementioned “Only Because of You”, “Alive at Last”, and “Spotlights” highlight the band’s penchant for writing unique and intoxicating melodies.
Martin’s vocal prowess is the undeniable star of the show and the main reason we’re even talking about Candlebox at all some 25 years after their inception. That said, it is also abundantly clear that new guitarists Mike Leslie and Brian Quinn have both played a major role in revitalizing the band’s sound as their interplay throughout the album is spot on. The rhythm section, consisting of original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen and bassist Adam Kury, do a fantastic job laying the foundation—and both members are given ample room throughout the course of the album to display their individual talents. When you boil it all down, this new iteration of Candlebox has succeeded in making a great modern sounding rock record despite the odds. Not only have they managed to create an album that is very much rooted in the sensibilities that make the 90’s rock sound so memorable for those who grew up during that era, they’ve also managed to make it sound like that wasn’t really their intent. For a band whose identity is so intrinsically tied to a specific place and time, that is a massive accomplishment.