Soul Asylum‘s career has been a curious one, ranging from beloved indie punks in the 80s scene around Minneapolis to 90s MTV favourites to a band struggling for identity in the years after. Delayed Reaction is just their second studio album of the 2000s and it finds them in better form than they’ve been for a very long time.
It’s their first album without founding member Karl Mueller on bass (he died before the release of Silver Lining, but played on it), but perhaps his death gave Dave Pirner & Co the chance to reflect on what direction the group should go in, because while Delayed Reaction is hardly as raucous as their early albums, it’s got a lot more energy than anything they’ve released since Grave Dancer’s Union.
There were signs they they were moving in that direction with first single Gravity, easily the best Soul Asylum song released in years. Pirner’s vocals sound like it’s been only a few years since Somebody To Shove (rather than 18), all giving it the feel of a classic. And the good news is that it’s very much an introduction to the kind of sound that shines through the whole album, with tracks like Let’s All Kill Each Other taking things back even further.
Of course, Pirner is pushing 50 now and it’s no surprise that his band are at their best when going mid-pace on tracks like Into The Light and fantastic closer I Should Have Stayed In Bed, but it’s still great to hear them let loose on The Streets. Undoubtedly, having former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson on bass has given them a shot in the arm, while drummer Michael Bland is also an asset, bringing a different kind of beat – having been most famous for his work with New Power Generation.
Soul Asylum caught some flack from old-time fans in the mid-to-late 90s for going ‘soft’ with albums full of ballads after the success of Runaway Train, but the slower tracks on Delayed Reaction are both interesting enough to avoid such criticisms, particularly the piano-led torch song Cruel Intentions. Of course, chasing a hit is really beyond them now, they’re never likely to repeat their successes of the early 90s, but are in that comfortable zone of a band reaching middle age with enough fans to do what they do best and reap the more limited rewards.
Delayed Reaction is an appropriate title for an album that has been six years in the making, especially following an eight year wait before its predecessor, but it sounds a lot more confident and impressive than you might expect. Hopefully Pirner and Co will be back quicker next time because they seem to have hit a rich vein of form and it’s great to have them around still. There’s more than enough evidence here that they could be around a lot longer yet.