And like any other band struggling to uphold their legacy, the rest of what’s left in Rivermaya seems one in servitude of doing an album that would hopefully rekindle the fuel and spark of their previous successes, especially after Rico Blanco departed the band in 2007, when they seemingly were at the height of conquering Southeast Asia with the pan-cultural crossover success of hit singles “You’ll Be Safe Here” and “Balisong.” Unfortunately though, their newest album Panatang Makabanda—also their 12th record and first in four years—doesn’t have the anthemic impact and ambition of what made Trip, Atomic Bomb, It’s Not Easy Being Green, Free, Tuloy Ang Ligaya and Between The Stars And Waves, a critical and commercial frontrunner in the OPM world for the last two decades, next in line to the impact that has gotten The Eraserheads their place in the upper echelons of pop culture behemoths.
Not that the auteur figure in Mark Escueta, the lone original member of the iconic 1994 lineup, is being held in question or that this record isn’t just made for these tough, challenging times. In fact, Panatang Makabanda still sounds inarguably, a classic Rivermaya record: sprawling alt-rock tunes with ear-catching pop sensibilities perfect for CHR radio, packed with choruses that would charm us in complete awe and glee as we walk from one destination to another. But there are things that don’t matter the second, third, and nth time around. Panatang Makabanda, with all its understated gloss and open-hearted blow, lacks the charisma of old Rivermaya albums, its spirit somehow enervated and dragged into uninspired lows.
It’s what made supposedly good songs “Tayo” and “Magic Wand” fall under the prey of patchiness, failing to deliver on its early promise of brilliance. Opener “Pilipinas, Kailan Ka Magigising,” another forced attempt to revive ‘Maya’s surging, stadium-sized drawl of an optimist anthem, is completely derailed by the annoying tendency to sound huge and relevant. The Gloc 9-assisted track “Nasa Sa’yo” and the Earth-bound funk mess of “The Better One,” on the other hand, feels completely out of place, lumped in between more solemn songs. And in a sweep of surprise, Rivermaya ends Panatang Makabanda with a track called “Paalam.” How predictable.
There are few pleasant surprises though. “Song About You,” glistened in sunshine lilt, allows the band to play around with three-part harmonies and beautifully placed guitar-piano melodies, almost delivering subliminal energies that echo Simon and Garfunkel at their loosest. It’s also difficult to ignore the slacker power-pop jabs of “Can’t Hide It Anymore”—a strength that they could exhaust further, if they still happen to continue making music bearing the same band moniker. Other than that, the album seems like a work waiting to be in progress, trying to operate under the circumstances of wanting to stay relevant, with tons of pressure in mind. C