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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Deirdre Northrup-Riesterer April 17, 2024

Widespread sub-par on 18th album

With Widespread Panic’s tenth studio album, “Free Somehow,” they prove that no matter how long a band has been in the business, it’s still possible to make a sub-par album. This so-called “ultimate jam band” has been involved in the youthful event Bonnaroo and will play the upcoming Rothbury Festival. However, what works on stage isn’t always so stunning on record. Although there are a few standout tracks on the album, listeners may often find themselves on what sounds like a musical-induced acid trip straight out of the ’60s.

When hearing the band for the first time, listeners might guess the members were twenty-somethings rather than balding men who have been in the music business for 22 years. However, that is what typically gives them an advantage. No one can disrespect a band that has been making music together for as long as they have, still touring and incorporating instruments that were thought to be long dead. And while Widespread offers some of their own noise, they mostly borrow from old influences. From the Grateful Dead to Guns ‘n Roses, the band seems to sound like a different rock band in every song on the album.

The song “Walk on Flood” sounds like Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s love-child. That may seem amazing, but when put to the test, it isn’t such a great thing. While the music is down-home southern rock, lead vocalist John Bell tries to channel Robert Plant. The howling screech that kicks off the song can only be achieved by the Zeppelin frontman himself, and should never be duplicated under any circumstances.

After the initial shock of the combination, the song actually becomes better. Bell’s voice is quite pleasant when he stops trying so hard to sound like someone else.

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“Tickle The Truth” is another track that falls flat. Once in a while it hits a patch where people may wonder if Barry Manilow is the guest vocalist. The lyrics don’t help, either. “You know, these cool shades make you look bitchin’/She split from our table/Mumblin’ remember to tip/I had a twenty in ready/But I said I might just skip/Some people act funny when you’re just tryin’ to be hip.”

Words like “bitchin'” and “hip” were only legitimate when used 40 years ago, and the song-writing skills are about as original as the music in the background. Toward the end of the song, Bell sings, “Don’t look now/I’m ripping off Dylan.” They’re not lying — because only Dylan could sing such a pointless story and make it meaningful.

There is no doubt that Widespread Panic is composed of incredibly talented musicians and they show this by using instruments such as the piano, trumpets, bongos and harmonica. Most mainstream musicians have failed to play anything but the guitar and standard drums for decades. In the song “Dark Day Program,” the band displays what the whole album should really sound like. Bell sounds soulful and bluesy, but innovative. The music is slow, modern rock with meaningful words that make perfect sense. It’s a shame they couldn’t have included more tracks like this.

When they’re not playing four-minute guitar solos that seem as though they should be set to psychedelic colors and images of mushrooms, the music is impressive. And when they don’t seem to be mimicking rock gods from music’s past, they sound good. However, in competition with modern music, good is not enough.

No matter how great Widespread Panic may sound on stage, classic rock is called classic for a reason. Trying to make it brand new, as they do on this album, only ends up ruining it.

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