Album Review: The Human Condition

Review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths

Black Stone Cherry

Black Stone Cherry have been one of my favourite bands for years now, since I first heard Blind Man way back at the start of secondary school. Since then, the Kentucky natives have gone from strength to strength, in the UK anyway, headlining arena tours and playing high up the bill at major rock festivals. That is largely down to their absolutely stellar back catalogue of albums up until this point, all six of them being incredible and filled with catchy southern/blues rock. I have been waiting for this album to come out so I can review it ever since the first single was released, let’s hope it’s good, ey?

I have to admit, the start of the album disappointed me just a little bit. I don’t mind Ringin’ In My Head at all, but BSC are so good at writing such chunky, killer riffs that opening the album on a song that doesn’t have one feels like a real missed opportunity. The song instead opens up straight into the verse, a simple, bouncy guitar riff with Chris Robertson’s awesome vocals calling for the audience’s attention. It builds up with some nice harmonies and a cool little pre-chorus before exploding into a huge, open chorus. It’s pretty catchy but what annoys me about it is that the chorus and pre-chorus lyrics are exactly the same. In a way I get it, but it also feels just a tad lazy to repeat the same four lines over again. At least they go straight into the chorus the second time around, and honestly it sounds so much better. Still though, the chorus is great!

The band drop it down coming out of the second chorus, a great quieter riff here that holds back just enough to highlight John Fred’s incredible drum work. Ben Wells soon follows with a simple yet awesome, emotion-filled guitar solo before everyone drops out but Chris’ vocals singing the chorus lines. It sounds great. A huge gang vocal harmony on the last line launches the song back into the huge last chorus. It carries on for a while quietly after the initial part but the instrumentation turns into an epic outro, some great guitar soloing going on the music speeds up and gets grander and grander into a huge ending. BSC have gotten so good at these huge outros over the last couple of albums and for this part alone I’d love to see this song live. 

The first single, Again is up next. Immediately we get a great fuzzy riff that soon explodes into a wall of groove and awesomeness. It’s honestly one of the best riffs I think they’ve written in years, at least since Magic Mountain. It drops down in the verse, the guitars cutting out and leaving a great, dirty baseline for Chris to sing over. It builds up slowly but instead of exploding into the usual huge BSC chorus straight away, it drops down even further for the first one, leaving just Chris’ vocals over an acoustic guitar. It sounds awesome and, if anything, makes the intro riff pack an even bigger punch when it comes in again after the chorus, sounding heavier than ever. It’s a great contrast to the second chorus, too, which stays at the same level of the verse, opening out with distorted guitars and huge vocals. It’s also one of the best choruses they’ve done in a while. The bridge and solo, while fairly simple, both pack huge punches and really tie together the song heading into the last chorus, it being a double one to really conclude the song in grand fashion. For a band who over the last couple of albums have SUCKED at picking out which ones to use as a single, this one for me at least is up there with Me and Mary Jane. Awesome stuff. 

Push Down & Turn opens with another amazing, heavy riff, a really old-school BSC vibe right out of the gate. In fact, the whole song feels like it would be right at home on their debut or Folklore and Superstition, less of a country vibe but just heavy, sludgy blues rock that has a bit of a pace and attitude to it. It’s exactly the kind of music that made me fall in love with the band in the first place and, honestly, it’s nice to hear it again after so long of a slightly different sound. Everything about this song is awesome, the huge riffs, the tight, catchy chorus and the clearly Slash inspired, more complex soloing. Shout out to the start of the last chorus where everything cuts out but Chris’ vocals, I HAVE to see that live. My favourite song on the album so far, and my favourite song they’ve done in a while, too!

When Angels Learn to Fly is the first slower song on the album. It still has a pretty killer riff to open it, but make no mistake, this is a ballad. Straight away we get some classic emotional lyrics, talking of loss and heartbreak. It reminds me a lot of the slower couple of songs off Magic Mountain and it really started to occur to me that this album really feels like an amalgamation of all their previous albums, taking bits of each sound and combining it all together into a newer sound, almost a culmination of what they’ve been working towards as a band. It’s really awesome to hear! Anyway, back to the song. Another great, catchy chorus, this time with some subtle but awesome string samples in the background. The bridge after the second chorus is also awesome, gang vocals and more strings really emphasising the emotion of the song. A good song for a BSC ballad. 

Live this Way is another awesome, typical BSC song. Opening with an awesome drum fill from John Fred, the song is three and a half minutes of heavy blues rock awesomeness. A great chorus is really the highlight of this one, something BSC do so well. However, the next true highlight of the album is definitely their latest single, In Love with the Pain. It opens on a slower country riff that gives me instant Like I Roll vibes, one of my favourite songs by them. The chorus opens up into one of the best, most catchy ones on the album. It’s easy to listen to and is definitely radio rock, but it is done so well that it sounds amazing, a real feel-good song, even despite some of the lyrics. The solo is awesome and packs so much emotion into it, too, maybe my favourite from Ben on this album so far, which is really saying something. A short but amazing song that immediately made my playlist the first time I heard it, a highlight in an already amazing album. 

Both The Chain and Ride are two more typically amazing, if a little standard, BSC songs. Both have awesome, heavy opening riffs and huge, open, catchy chorus’ that I imagine would sound amazing live. Unfortunately, while both are good, they both feel just a tad forgettable. It may be because of just how good this album has been up until this point, but both of these feel slightly like filler songs than all out bangers. As I said, still great songs, but we’ve hit the slight mid-album lull, something that does sometimes happen when albums start getting to this sort of length. Then again, they are also too good songs just to simply cut out, so I see their dilemma!

The band return to form next with another ballad, possibly the best one on the album, If My Heart Had Wings. It begins beautifully, with slow, clean guitars, Chris’ emotional vocals and some subtle guitar. Then the chorus kicks in and sounds huge, catchy, emotional and utterly fantastic. It gives me serious Things my Father Said vibes, and may actually be their best ballad since that song, it is just that good. The lyrics are beautiful in this too, some of the best on the album so far.  The solo is simple, mainly following the same melody of the lyrics before it, but it again has so much emotion in there that too much technicality would have ruined it. Everything about this was awesome, another huge highlight of the album. 

Just when I thought this album couldn’t get any better or surprise me any more, we got a cover of ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down (yes, I know, I should have guessed from the song name!). Now, the band are no strangers to cover songs, their cover of War a few years ago was awesome, and yet again they nail it with this one. It takes some real skill to be able to not only make a cover sound respectful and close to the original but also still to sound like your own style too, and BSC have nailed it on more than one occasion at this point. I have nothing more to say about this song other than please, check it out! 

The final three songs on the album, Some Stories, Devil In Your Eyes and Keep on Keepin’ On suffer a little bit similarly to how the middle of the album did, they are all great songs, but kind of blend into the background of the album, given how damn good a lot of the other songs on the album are. Both Stories and Devil have great intro riffs to them, but nothing that beats Alone or Push Down.

Subsequently Keepin’ On, is a great country rock song, but it doesn’t do much that In Love With The Pain doesn’t feel like it does better. Like I said, all three are good, maybe even great songs, but nothing on them stands out as different or ear-catching after honestly some of the band’s best work earlier on in the album. I enjoyed all three of them and will definitely listen to them again, but most likely not outside of when I’m just listening to the album as a whole. 

Overall, this album was amazing. Easily my favourite album of theirs since Magic Mountain, and that’s spoken as a fan of their last two albums, too. They’ve finally managed to pick a good lead single again in Again (ironic, I know) and there are easily 5/6 songs from this album that immediately made it onto my playlist. A return to form I didn’t even realise they needed, and if this isn’t the album that finally allows them to headline Download, I don’t know what will!

Overall: 8.5/10

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