Puppet Strings

Written by: PP on 13/03/2014 22:02:28

Fuel. I must admit that's one of the rock bands I thought I'd never run into again after the mediocre "Angels & Devils" in 2007 - their first without golden throat Brett Scallions, who left the band prior to the release of the record. It was a blow I didn't think they would recover from considering the classic mainstream rock album status of "Sunburn" and "Something Like Human" from 1998 and 2000, respectively, weighing down their backs as achievements impossible to match in their current state. These were albums that shot Fuel to the top of the charts through songs like "Sunburn", "Shimmer", "Solace", and "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)", all songs that defined a generation listening to alternative rock on the radio across the pond. Though never as successful in Europe, Fuel nonetheless left a lasting mark on many a teenager growing up through the post-grunge and nu-metal period by offering a mediating expression between the former and 90s-style Metallica inspired rock ballads on their early records, this scribe included.

It took seven years for Fuel to recover from the aftermath of "Angels & Devils" that ultimately resulted in original guitarist and songwriter Carl Bell's departure alongside bassist and founding member Jeff Abercrombie. But here we are with fifth album "Puppet Strings", which marks a new beginning for the band given it's the first record since 2003 with original vocalist Scallions. It's essentially a new band given how all other members since "Angels & Devils" have departed, which certainly has a double-edged effect on the final product. On one hand, the return of Scallions is highly anticipated, because he truly offers a trip down the memory lane with his charismatic, instantly recognizable delivery that always set Fuel apart from other post-grunge oriented alternative rock bands. The songs still sound huge - "Cold Summer" and "I Can See The Sun" in particular take you straight back to late 90s early 2000s style mainstream rock when Fuel were at the forefront of bands pursuing this style. In general, the second half of the record is where they really come through recalling their glory days, though without the sublime attention-to-detail of lead guitarist Carl Bell. And here's the key difference of Scallions-led Fuel with and without Bell: the songs are merely decent, with a couple of strong cuts ("Puppet Strings", "Headache" in addition to the ones mentioned) but without the show-stopping flair that was present in the guitar during their best songs in the past. Here I'm talking about the synchronization between Scallions and Bell during the brilliant interplay during songs like "Shimmer" and "Sunburn", which featured a balladic guitar approach, yet textured with enough detail to allow Scallion to truly shine with his vocal talent on top.

And that is essentially the endemic problem on "Puppet Strings". It teases you with good old memories from the great albums, but delivers an almost there type of a performance instead. You'll still lap it up though, because it is Fuel and it'll give you a positive feedback loop of your childhood memories, probably reinforced by the fact that there are so many years between this album and the last time you actually listened to Fuel (or the last time they were relevant). Interestingly enough, "Puppet Strings" feels at least somewhat relevant regardless of your relationship with the band. These are solid rock songs that are devoid of any of the modern pop culture references or substance-less influences that many modern alternative rock bands are glazed with. It's better than I dared to anticipate.


Download: Cold Summer, I Can See The Sun, Puppet Strings, Headache
For the fans of: Metallica ballads, Finger Eleven
Listen: Facebook

Release date 04.03.2014
MegaForce Records

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