You’re likely familiar with Soul Asylum’s work, even if you’ve never heard their name, as so often is the case with bands that make huge splashes in the industry only a few times. Their Grammy-winning “Runaway Train” put these guys on the map, and they’ve hardly lost their footing there in the last 24 years. Although they’ve experienced an almost complete lineup change, their sound stays true to their pre-grunge days in their newest release, Change of Fortune.
Soul Asylum has long been considered one of the precursors to grunge, and strangely, their sound stayed relatively consistent despite the entire coming, going, and rebirth of the 90’s fad. They stepped on the scene in 1981, bringing an entirely new flavor with them. Starting with a basis of soft rock, they stripped away the clean edges and crystal clarity, opting instead for a more gritty vibe. While they at first may have appeared to simply be the ushers of a new genre, they’ve stood tall and strong in their identity in the tumult and capriciousness of the industry.
Change of Fortune takes us through a kind of backyard hangout with its cool, bouncy beats and anecdotal lyrics. Their 2012 release, Delayed Reaction, definitely had a harder edge to it, but I could see every track on Change of Fortune right at home at a bar show. While there’s obviously the same conviction, the album just has a more casual feel. This may be due in part to the band’s vocalist, songwriter, and only original member Dave Pirner’s entry into his 50’s.
Straying from this relaxed feel is “Make it Real.” If you were looking for something similar to Delayed Reaction, you’ll find it in the 7th track. Pirner picks up some almost Seether-style vocals, giving the song a really fascinating dynamic. Unfortunately, the track was simply labeled “experimental” and lasts only a little over 2 minutes. This easily could become a single if more time was spent on it.
Overall, Soul Asylum is reaching back to their earlier days, giving us that easy-going vibe the world loved in “Runaway Train.” The lyrics are quirky and while they certainly aren’t meaningless, you won’t be meditating on them for too long. If you were worried about the alt rockers cleaning up their sound and going towards the mainstream, fear not, because these tracks are just as unfussy as we would expect from the guys.
Any band that has eleven albums in their discography is doing something right. The title of their new album is fairly ironic, considering how very little the band has strayed from their origins. Nothing about Soul Asylum was “broke”, so very little was “fixed” on Change of Fortune. This is a solid album made by professionals. I think their next challenge will be figuring out how to cram eleven albums into one set list when they hit the road next.