Review: Fuel – Puppet Strings

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Artist: Fuel
Album: Puppet Strings
Rating: 10/10

If you were around in the 90s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Fuel’s iconic grunge anthem “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”. For 15 years, they’ve dominated the active rock scene, despite line-up changes (including the departure of original vocalist, Brett Scallions), they’ve always found a way to stay on top. With the release of 2007’s “Angels & Devils”, we saw a new Fuel logo, new vocalist (Toryn Green) and an overall new sound for the band. The album debuted at #42 on the Billboard charts and was generally met with disapproval. In my opinion, the album was a bold new step forward for them… but it certainly didn’t end up the way they wanted it to. Toryn has since left the band and joined hard rock act, Emphatic and released his first album, “Another Life” with them in 2013. In 2010, Brett Scallions announced that he was returning to Fuel giving a new breath of hope, life and excitement to Fuelies (a term coined by the band in their early days to describe their fans) worldwide! Shortly after the announcement, the band set out to record their new album with Eddie Wohl who also produced Brett’s project, World Fire Brigade, featuring all current members of Fuel and vocalist/guitarist of Smile Empty Soul, Sean Danielsen. In late 2013, Fuel finally announced their album title, “Puppet Strings” with more details to follow soon thereafter. In early January 2014, Brett spoke in an interview about the lead single, “Soul to Preach To” which would be out later that month. In many ways, “Puppet Strings” is some of the best material that Fuel has released since 2003’s “Natural Selection” album. It’s got that hard rock flavor, coupled with Brett’s unforgettable southern vocal style. It’s got the catchy choruses, the lyrics we’ve all come to expect and love from Brett in the past and, best of all, it has heart.

Perhaps what made “Angels & Devils” less successful than the band had hoped was the fact that they seemed to be losing hope in themselves as a band. It caused them to adhere to an image and a sound that just didn’t work out the way they planned. The album wasn’t bad, on the contrary it was ALMOST on par with their past material, but it lacked that determination and drive that they showed in the previous albums. “Puppet Strings” is a glorious return to form for Fuel. It covers old ground, while also working some new ideas in there, as well.

Let’s start with the opening track, “Yeah!”, released as a “teaser” download in December of 2013. Is it the best track on the album? Arguably, yes, but there’s more than meets the eye which you’ll learn later. It’s easily one of the heaviest tracks on the album and many seemed to think it would be the first single, however, that was not the case. I think it serves it’s purpose… we all longed for that return to the old Fuel sound and, of course, with “Yeah!” you get just that!

The lead single, “Soul to Preach To”, is a more down-tempo track that is driven acoustically, giving the verses a bit of a country twang. Once you get to the chorus, it gets heavier and you start to see why the band chose this as the first single. The track itself seems to be about a lost soul who found faith at just the right time. “Oh, look at all the times I couldn’t care, now I’m lookin’ out for a soul to preach to. What I’m searchin’ for is just a world away” seems to be that Scallions has found God and wants to preach His message to all who were once like him.

One of the more interesting tracks on the album is “Hey Mama”. This is more of a country/rock track, in the same vein as older Black Crowes, Hootie & the Blowfish, etc. Once you get to the bridge, you start to feel more of that classic Fuel vibe to it, though, while still keeping the country flavor, peppered on. You can definitely tell the band had fun recording this one. Towards the end, you can definitely tell that Brett was feelin’ this track vocally.

“Time For Me to Stop” is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s a track about the struggles as a musician when things seem to be going downhill. Every musician needs a break now and again. Brett sings out, “I was thinkin’ I’d leave this world behind, settle for a fraction, make it my new fashion. I’m alright, I’ll be better when I’m home until then it’s time for me to find my own strength. I can’t hide all the things I should have known, I guess it’s time for me to stop.” To me, this is referencing to when Brett decided to part ways with the band back in 2006. He knew things would get worse if he stayed in the band, he had to get home and get better before he could continue his journey with them. 8 years later, he’s singing about it, knowing it was the best choice at the time.

“Wander” could be the new “Bad Day”, starting off fairly soft, acoustically driven, and building up into a heartfelt chorus that will tug at the heartstrings. It’s one of the most beautiful tracks that the band has ever written and has left a lasting impression on my heart. There’s not much else I can say about this track, except to listen to it with your heart, as well as your ears. “As you wander through the world, just carry all the words to heart”. ¬†The end solo really shows Andy Andersson’s skills on the ax, as well!

I think my favorite on this track, both musically and lyrically, would have to be “Cold Summer”. You’d think, with the title, that it would be a softer track, right? Well, you’re half right. For the most part, in terms of the instrumentals, it’s one of the more simplistic tracks on the album. I think what really makes it pop is the switch from the acoustic to electric, coupled with the piano/keyboard parts. The way it all comes together is just almost too good to be true. The track, lyrically, seems to be about a couple who has decided to take a break due to problems with the relationship. One is feeling remorse for all the horrible things they said or did, while the other is reminiscing and longing for the “Cold Summer” to end.

“I Can See the Sun”: A tale of the discovery of true love. “It’s been too long since I found love, let me raise you up from here. Cuz I love this more than all those lonely years and I can see the sun in you”. It’s no secret that depression can bring dark thoughts and make life seem bleak. If you fell in love but it fell apart, it will always hurt, especially if you fall deep enough. This track is about discovering that the last relationship wasn’t meant to be, going on a new journey and finding what you’ve been searching for all those years.

The title track is another track that features the southern/country twang while keeping the old Fuel elements. The instrumental portions on this track make it very interesting. Now, “Puppet Strings” is the other side of the spectrum to “I Can See the Sun”. You think everything is perfect when, in reality, your significant other is your puppet master, so to speak. They’re always pulling your strings and making you do things you never imagined you’d be doing, just for the sake of love.

We’re almost to the end of the album, the final heavier track sets in, “Headache”. Can you guess what this track is about? That’s right, it’s about the anger and confusion that sets in when you realize that your relationship has been based on lies, disguises and mistrust. You get a headache just thinking about it, you want to run away, just to get away from everything. You want to run as far as you can go, never to see that person again. “How could I be so blind?” is a question we ask ourselves all too often. But you see, love IS blind. Love isn’t perfect, it’s not all sunshine and fu**ing rainbows like the media make it out to be. It’s heartache, it’s fights, it’s sleepless nights but TRUE love is about overcoming adversity, sticking together. In the end, only you know what is right, but until then… you will be subject to the true heartache, which is not being with that one special person.

The final track starts out with acoustic strumming, a little bit of twang and an overall melancholy feel. “What We Can Never Have”… have you guessed what this one is about, given the rest of the album yet? In case you haven’t, it’s about the realization that comes with a broken heart. This one, particularly, seems to be about keeping a friendship, despite the falling out i their relationship. It’s a perfect way to end the album. It ends the same way it began, but the buildup is really what makes this track worth sitting through.

“Puppet Strings” leaves nothing to be desired but leaves you begging for more. One can only hope that this isn’t the end of their long career, but it would be an excellent stopping point, as I believe this album will put them back where they belong. I hope you will take the time to go check the album out and discover why it is that Fuel has stayed on top for so long! “Puppet Strings” is set to hit shelves on March 4th via MegaForce Records!

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“Soul to Preach To”