Album Review: The Sounds – Crossing the Rubicon

Crossing the Rubicon isn’t quite an appropriate name for the Sounds’ third album. Halfway Across the Rubicon would have been closer–“crossing” denotes a radical departure, which the album is not. It is, however, an admirable attempt on the part of the Sounds to stretch their boundaries beyond the New Wave of their first two albums.

Attempts, even if admirable, do not always succeed, and Crossing the Rubicon can either be judged a qualified success or an ambitious failure, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of guy.

As with their first two albums, Crossing opens with a killer single, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake,” ready-made for the party-pleasing best-of that’s in the Sounds’ future if current trends continue.

As we advance, the cracks begin to show. The quality of Sounds lyrics has always been up and down, but it’s a real problem on Crossing the Rubicon. Jumping from their usual slightly-cynical posture to lovey-dovey or idealistic is incongruous and bespeaks a band having a little trouble nailing down its identity.

This results in one major missed opportunity. “Home Is Where Your Heart Is” has a glorious pop melody, and, if balanced with some dialed-back lyrics, could have been stunning. Instead, the lyrics serve up so much corn the listener could be excused for thinking the Sounds were from Iowa rather than Sweden.

Another error in judgment is the hip-hop/New Wave combo “Beatbox,” in which lead singer Maja Ivarsson decides that she can rap and makes Debbie Harry sound like Eminem in the process. The pisser here is that everything in the song that isn’t “rap” is terrific, and it could have been great if the Sounds had recognized their limitations and brought in a skilled MC as a collaborator. Perhaps a remix is in order.

Not every experiment is a failure, though. “The Only Ones” is something new for the Sounds, an epic number that seems to be set against a backdrop of political violence. Suddenly, the maudlin lyrics transform from a negative to a huge positive as they impart a heartbreaking wistfulness. Despite its scope or because of it, it’s the most human moment on the record.

Crossing the Rubicon is the work of a band in transition. While a letdown after the excellent Dying to Say This to You, it does provide plenty of reasons to believe that the Sounds have another great album in them once they’ve finished crossing.

Three Stars

The Sounds – “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake”

The Sounds – “The Only Ones”

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