May 10, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Franco - Soul Adventurer (2013)

“The world is gonna see some better days, this feeling starts within yourself today,” pours the charismatic rock icon Franco Reyes on the stirring, huge-hooked anthem “Better Days.” This time, he delivers the goods as if he’s screaming in front of the biggest stadium of the world, persuading the crowd to smell and imbibe the free-spirited optimism of what humanity has to offer. Anthems have always been big and rousing, carried with a messianic message that impacts other people’s lives. And it’s refreshing to hear Franco channel the vibe so effortlessly, like it’s almost second nature to him.

Working for or against it, Franco’s sophomore album, Soul Adventurer threads on similar waters: the kind of anthemic rock sprawl hidden under a wash of infectious sing-alongs and power chord stompers. In the case of “To Survive,” “Better Days,” “Moonset,” and “A Beautiful Diversion”—it works, and even finds the band harnessing a particularly introspective mood. However, there are times that Franco’s stadium aspirations tend to overwhelm. The ambitious gestures downplay moments where he could have been more tender and nuanced; leaving us sometimes with schmaltzy, life-affirming pronouncements quite short of sincerity.

But don’t get me wrong. Soul Adventurer is a compelling modern rock release, and delivers the sonic hugeness that we’ve come to expect from arguably one of the country’s most popular rock icons of the last 5 years. While there’s some sort of heavy-handedness in the way Franco inject his own vulnerability, you could sense from a distance that’s he’s willing to compromise between experimental and pedestrian tastes, often making songs that go beyond satisfying its core audience.

“Lover's Fire,” with its minimalist R&B inflections and slowly seductive grooves provides a refreshing undertow that can’t be shaken for weeks and months. Opener “To Survive” and “A Beautiful Diversion” could rival first single “Better Days” in terms of chart longevity and pomp, wrapping the inner workings of love, life and religion with triumphant and emotional ballast. The rest of the songs range from good to middling, executed with rockstar confidence that cuts across class and ages.  

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