Chevelle – Hats Off To the Bull

3 out of 5

Produced by: Joe Barresi

Label: Epic

Any Chevelle song is fairly identifiable as the band’s work, but over their surprising amount of active years and releases, their sound has definitely bounced around within a range of their heavy rock genre, whether it’s the Tool-likeness of Point #1, or yelly rock singles, or their more melodic moments, with albums generally favoring one approach over another.  …And for me, their weakest albums – in the sense that I listen to them the least – are those that sort of sit as transitions from one stylistic era to another.

Sitting in between the mature Sci-Fi Crimes and the sinfully heavy La Gargola, Hats Off to the Bull suffers this fate, trying a bit too hard to marry intensity to a wider sonic palette and ending up with a fair amount of tracks that don’t leave much of a mark.  It’s wise that they’ve stuck with producer Joe Barresi, though, whose open but guiding hand on this recording does lead them down some interesting paths that would give birth to the two amazing followup albums, but it’s equally true that the band doesn’t quite know what to do with the space, leading to some middling stretches which contain an unfortunate lack of memorable hooks, Chevelle toning back their riffage in favor of these extra sounds.

The album is sprinkled with enough highlights to keep the ear mostly engaged – these often the same as the released singles – like zippy opener Face To The Floor or the crunch of the title track, and Pete Loeffler still trying out the bout of more poetic lyrics he’d been refining since Vena Sera (though maybe wisely set aside for some straight forward aggression on Gargola…), so again, Hats Off undeniably sounds like a Chevelle disc.  But while most critics seemed in favor of the expanded studio tricks, it comes out as a bit of a wash to me, not distinct enough in any particular way to make its few notable tracks worth the sake relisten treatment their other albums receive.

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