The Lion The Beast The Beat, the latest release by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (and their third on the Hollywood Records label) is a well-produced, sophisticated followup to their 2010 eponymous release—a solid combination of rock anthems, power ballads and even a bit of genre bending.
There’s little question that Grace Potter has one of the most powerful voices in rock today. She can go effortlessly between sensitive balladry and stratospheric, searing rock licks, seemingly in no time flat. Potter’s rise to fame has not been a quick one, but the hard work has paid off, and a lot more people are finding out what she’s capable of. The band’s last record Grace Potter & The Nocturnals peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200, and at #3 on Billboard’s “Top Rock Album” chart. Let’s just say it’s no surprise that there was plenty of anticipation for this record.
So was the anticipation worth it? It depends on your perspective. Those looking for a bit more maturity from the band are likely to be quite pleased, while those who prefer the gritty rock sounds might be a little bit disappointed.
No doubt there is a deeper level of maturity in this collection of songs. Potter lets her voice soar into the heavens a couple of times, but mainly she keeps her vocal chops more controlled. The rockiest songs (the title track and “The Divide”) bookend the album, while in between, the songs tend generally more toward the reflective side of things, with a few interruptions. “Stars,” perhaps the most powerful song on the album, is a melodic ballad seemingly aimed at the country market (especially considering that Kenny Chesney is featured in the bonus track version), and serves as an excellent showcase for Potter’s vocal range. Other high points on the track list include “Turntable,” a rhythmically catchy tune that bristles with a sexuality reminiscent of “Paris (Ooh La La),” and the opening track “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” which is so epic in its sound that it actually is a bit deceptive as to what the rest of the album is like.
I wish I could say all the news was good about this record, but I can’t. There’s a pitfall that a lot of artists fall into when they find themselves on the brink of massive mainstream success: they start catering to it, trying to attract it. In the process, they lose a bit of the raw dynamic that drew their fans to them to begin with. I see Grace Potter & The Nocturnals venturing into this trap a bit with this album. In an apparent attempt to be more sophisticated, the record feels a little bit overproduced and a little too controlled. There also seems to be a bit of pandering to what is currently “popular”. The widely touted songwriting collaboration with Potter and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on several of the tunes (a move that admittedly looks good on paper) seems to have backfired a bit, as GPN seems to be trying to sound like The Black Keys at times. (“Loneliest Soul” sort of sounds like it could have been lifted from a Black Keys record.) Another example of this pandering is the preamble to the opening title track, which sounds almost like a tip of the hat to Florence + The Machine before the song actually dives into its own rock groove.
All this to say—The Lion The Beast The Beat sounds like a band that is trying a little too hard for superstardom. Whether or not that was actually their intent, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals may be losing their way just a little bit—not so much that they couldn’t easily find their way back, but just enough to spark a little concern.
Criticisms aside, this record is far from being a flop; it’s certain to be a fan pleaser, it’s worth the cost of a download, and no doubt it’s destined for some level of mainstream success. I just hope GNP doesn’t lose their unique identity in the process.
ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)