You’ve got to give Our Lady Peace points for honesty. Without coming right out and saying that the band lost the thread at some point in the past decade, singer Raine Maida, in press materials accompanying Curve, says “This is the record we’ve been trying to make for the past 10 years.” Maida also says that making the album found him and his bandmates “truly challenging ourselves to come up with something more authentic and inspired”.
Reading between the lines, the frontman seems to be admitting that the world was justified in all but ignoring OLP’s last few albums, and that singles like “All You Did Was Save My Life” and “The End Is Where We Begin”, while big and important-sounding, were formulaic rockers that didn’t satisfy either the artistic or commercial goals of the Toronto group. Listening to them, it’s hard to imagine they’re by the same band (albeit with a different guitarist) that emerged during the mid ’90s alt-rock explosion, with songs (like “The Birdman” and “Starseed”) that bristled with postgrunge angst but didn’t really sound like anything else.
Since we can all probably agree with what Maida seems to be saying—that Our Lady Peace lost the plot some time after original guitarist Mike Turner’s departure in 2001—let’s move on to the present. Because you know what? Curve is a good record. Not just “okay for a band past its prime” good, but actually really good. Right from the opening moments, the group seems determined to let it be known that this isn’t going to be just another in a series of mundane albums. “Allowance” kicks off with what sounds like analogue synth tones lifted from a Tubeway Army B-side. While drummer Jeremy Taggart hammers out a beat that splits the difference between krautrock motorik and four-on-the-floor rock, the rest of the band turns in the kind of anthem that suggests Our Lady Peace has been taking notes at Arcade Fire shows.
In fact, throughout the record, you can make reasonable guesses as to what Maida and company have been listening to. Duncan Coutts’s snaky, fuzzed-up bass groove on “Fire in the Henhouse”, for example, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Muse disc, and the rest of the song follows suit. Elsewhere, Steve Mazur’s off-the-rails guitar solo on “Find Our Way” bears a more than passing resemblance to Jonny Greenwood’s indelible lead on Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”. But who cares? Everyone borrows, and Our Lady Peace hasn’t sounded this energized in years. The band credits coproducer Jason Lader with helping to ignite a long-dormant fire under its ass, and kudos to him for that.
Maida still sings like a man convinced that the fate of the world rests on his every word. It doesn’t, but the fate of his band might very well depend on how Curve fares. The general theme of the record is perseverance in the face of adversity, and finding one’s feet again after landing in the gutter. Fittingly, a photo of Canadian boxer George Chuvalo graces the album’s cover.
Chuvalo is a survivor in more than one respect, and if the songs on Curve are any indication, Our Lady Peace—which plays the Commodore next Thursday (April 19)—could very well follow in his footsteps. Don’t call it a comeback, though: OLP’s been here for years. But now the group is finally making music it can be proud of again.