Review: “Any Man in America” by Blue October

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By: Brooks Clarke Editor-in-Chief


Genre-Bending Quintet’s Sixth Studio Release Hits All the Right Notes

 

Long-time Blue October fans should know the Texas-based quintet’s formula by now: lead singer Justin Furstenfeld goes through some profound event in his life, creates ripped-from-the-diary lyrics and lets band utility man/octopus Ryan Delahoussaye work his magic. Not to trivialize an extremely difficult process, mind you. Few singers open their lives to fans like Furstenfeld, who treats performances almost like therapy sessions. And “Any Man in America,” the group’s sixth studio album, follows the tried and true formula established since their first major release, “The Answers,” in 1998.

While Blue October has never played an easily definable genre of music, the presence of guitar has always been a mainstay. However, “Any Man” takes an unexpected turn towards pop with some hip hop elements mixed in. Whether this is a response to the departure of lead guitarist C.B. Hudson is unclear, albeit convenient. The new direction doesn’t completely supplant the group’s classic sound, so fans of “History for Sale” or “Foiled” shouldn’t be scared away by the thought of Justin rapping.

Delahoussaye’s combination of violin, keyboard, back-up vocals, mandolin and occasional guitar are still in full force, and, as always, his performance is spectacular. “The Feel Again (Stay)” and “You Waited Too Long,” in particular, put Delahoussaye’s talents on display.

Furstenfeld is at his absolute best and worst in “Any Man,” with “The Worry List” being his most versatile and touching performance to date, and “Any Man in America,” the album’s title track, showing his raspy, baritone voice’s limitations.

Furstenfeld’s lyrics have never been cryptic, but there has always been some measure of deeper meaning just broad enough to relate to the everyday troubles of listeners. “Any Man,” however, is completely devoted to recounting the failed relationship between Furstenfeld and his wife, and their subsequent divorce and custody battle over baby-daughter Blue.

While the album’s concept sounds clichéd, the combination of Furstenfeld’s passionate delivery, Delahoussaye’s steadfast performance and heavier lyrics make it anything but trite.

In ditching the melancholy navel gazing of previous albums like “Foiled,” in favor of a more aggressive, confrontational tone, Blue October creates a more down-to-earth theme in “Any Man in America.” While the more adult subject matter might upset the tween “Twilight” crowd that latched onto the band after the release of their most recent album, “Approaching Normal,” it makes for much more interesting storytelling, regardless of musical quality.

Fortunately, “Any Man” has style as well as substance. In fact, it’s just barely edged out by “History for Sale” as Blue October’s best album to date. A veritable hodgepodge of classic Blue October and some interesting experimentation into pop with a heavier element of synthetic beats and effects, “Any Man in America” is a tale of two albums.

On one hand you have songs like “The Honesty,” which has a combination of acoustic and rhythm guitar with drums and violin, all while Furstenfeld provides vocals, which jump from melodic to coarse. Then we have the album’s black sheep, “The Flight (Lincoln to Minneapolis),” which feels like a Limp Bizkit B-Side. And it is worth a listen, if only for the novelty of hearing a white Texan with bipolar disorder rap like Macho Man Randy Savage.

“Any Man in America” takes some risks musically, and while some don’t pan out, it’s genuinely interesting to see Blue October try to evolve and expand to different genres. It may create a stark divide between the good and the bad, but the good in “Any Man” is the best Blue October has been in a long time. Don’t hesitate to pick this album up, even if you have a passing interest in Blue October or rock, in general. There is something here for everybody to enjoy.