Yes, this is the Soul Asylum. The “Runaway Train” Soul Asylum. They’re back with their 11th album, Change of Fortune, but not with their original members; only singer Dave Pirner is left from the original 1980s lineup. The Minneapolis-based band still has a little alternative rock to their sound, but they’ve incorporated some funky keyboards and gone a softer route. It’s hard to pin down what their current sound is, as there are too many guitar riffs for these songs to make it on a soft-rock station, yet it’s way too soft to get play on an alternative station. It’s easy-alternative? It’s easier to break the genres down by song rather than by the album because it’s all over the place.
The album starts strong with the high-energy pop-rock “Supersonic,” then the grungy “Can’t Help Myself,” which is packed with a repeated guitar riff and the same lyrics over and over. It’s repetitive, but that can be forgiven because it is catchy and harkens back to the ‘90s. “Doomsday” comes next but has a big change in direction: it sounds like The Wallflowers and Kiss collaborated on a folk-pop-rock song with just a bit too much electric guitar to be easy rock. Speaking of Wallflowers, “Ladies Man” reminds me of them as well, with it’s dramatic opening with strings, the gravelly vocals, and the easy rock sound. “Moonshine” has a dramatic bass line that gives it a bit of darkness, but it’s upbeat. “Make It Real” goes full late 90’s, early ‘00s alternative with vocal distortion, computerish keyboards, and distorted guitars – but it comes off as cheesy. “Dealing” sounds like a vintage Sheryl Crow song. “Don’t Bother Me” has a very slight country sound, but otherwise it’s an adult pop song. The 12-song album ends on a funky note: “Cool” and “Change of Fortune” bring the funk and lots of keyboard. This album is all over the map.
There are a few clever lines… well, maybe clever is too strong a word. Cute lines? Lyrics include “She took her time, and then she took mine” on “Don’t Bother Me.” Otherwise, the lyrics toe the cringeworthy line. Funky “Cool” has pretty much exactly the lyrics you dread for a song with that title: “Tell me am I cool enough/ cool enough for you/ tell me what I gotta do/ to be cool enough to hang with you.” There are a lot of tired lyrics about wondering why you’re always looking for trouble, not being able to help yourself, etc.
Then there’s “Morgan’s Dog.” This cautionary tale about irresponsible gun ownership sounds like a parody. Remember what “Runaway Train” did for awareness of missing and runaway teenagers? “Morgan’s Dog” is not going to do that for gun control. It tells the story of a boy who gets a .22 calibre gun for Christmas and accidentally shoots his beloved dog, but he’s ok with it because he loves that gun. It basically just keeps repeating “Morgan’s dog is dead,” “he shot his own dog dead,” “Morgan’s dog’s still dead” and other similar statements until you think that this can’t be a serious song. Then they just give up the story and get straight to the point in case you didn’t get the message or couldn’t relate it to your own life: “You should never get a gun/ Oh you’d probably shoot your own damn dog / and your dog would be dead.” Add in the whispering in the background to highlight certain words, and you have what seems like an SNL parody song, or maybe something Spinal Tap could come up with.
This album is well-produced, so it does come off as ear-pleasing, but it’s also a mess. The album isn’t cohesive and the lyrics leave something to be desired. So if you like your soft rock with some electric guitar riffs and funky keyboards, but you also like to hear one grunge-esque song in the middle, and you don’t plan on reading into any lyrics, you might be the target audience.