Augustana - Can't Love, Can't Hurt
Record Label: Epic Records
Release Date: April 29, 2008
There are a lot of reasons to like the new Augustana album Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt. For starters, it's ten piano-based nuggets of melodic rock that’s warmer and more soothing than its predecessor. The songs are slower, more midtempo, and highly contemplative. The angst has been stripped away and instead gorgeous, effective production takes center stage. Swirling strings and chiming guitars resonate throughout as vocalist Dan Layus sings songs about romance, heartbreak, and faith.
The album certainly has its moments. Opener “Hey Now” is a welcoming and comfortable start that channels arena-rock heights, whereas current single “Sweet and Low,” is as powerful a single as “Boston” was, if not more so. The big ballad “Twenty One” covers the same lyrical ground as “Boston” as Dan Layus contemplates moving to New York. There’s the two-and-a-half minute track “Fire” which comes across as nothing more than filler until Layus belts out and holds a note for roughly 30 seconds.
Two alt-country offerings, the spiritually panged “Dust,” and the sprite “Rest, Shame, Love” give the album a bit more maturity than found on All the Stars and Boulevards, and the gorgeous, aching closer “Where Love Went Wrong” results in one of the best closing songs I can ever remember. But for all its high notes there are an equal amount of low ones.
Second song “I Still Ain’t Over You” and seventh song “Either Way I’ll Break Your Heart Someday” try their hand at Tom Petty-esque roots-rock, and the results are quite muddled. Both of these are good songs, yes, but they don’t have the same bristle and crackle that the gritty rock songs on All the Stars and Boulevards had. Even the simple, do-no-wrong modern rock on “Meet You There” is effective but also quite safe.
Having heard the early version of “Hey Now” when it went by the title “Heart Shaped Gun” and having heard other songs that never made the album, it’s upsetting to hear the album come across as predictable and unoriginal. There are no daring moves, no risks, no jagged verses like “She’s shaking in the car with a gun in her hands, falling over love and the sweet romance.” It’s all crisp, fluid and sweetly affecting. And while that isn’t exactly a bad thing, it’s also not what one expects from Augustana. Moreover, the band spent more than two years putting the disc together, and the best they can muster is ten songs, of which only three are radio-ready.
It’s all somewhat disappointing. Yes, Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt is a gorgeous record with crystalline production and breathtaking vocals, but it’s also an album that could have been a lot more. While it definitely displays the band's alarming talent and inordinate amount of promise, it's not a disc that will make the earth shake. Therein lies the problem. All the Stars and Boulevards brought music fans to their knees, Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt leaves them standing still.