Oklahoma hard-rock act Hinder is one of those bands that made a great big splash at the start of their career, but have struggled to get the same level of attention since. While they’ve done “okay” by most standards, they’ve never quite matched the success of their triple-platinum debut album Extreme Behavior. In fact, each successive release has charted lower and sold less than its predecessors.
Hinder is attempting to change all that with their fourth studio release Welcome To the Freakshow, set to hit virtual and physical store shelves on December 4. On first listen, though, I have serious doubts that this record is going to turn things around.
Let’s start with the positive: musically speaking, Hinder is a great rock band, and they are definitely at their best when they are playing their guts out. With the most solidly driven drum/bass combo you’ll find anywhere, overlaid with flawless guitar work and Austin Winkler’s delightfully raspy vocals, all smoothed out with immaculate production value, the musicality on Freakshow is ear candy for any rock aficionado, and will certainly please existing Hinder fans.
So what’s the problem, then? In my view, it’s in the songs themselves.
The songs on Freakshow suffer in general from two fatal flaws: predictable (and often gratuitously filthy) lyricism, and a tendency to wander off-genre. (Remember, I said Hinder is a great rock band.) Generally speaking, the lyrics are either cliché-driven (as in “Down here the girls are always smokin’ / If you wanna fight or need a light, the bar is always open” in “See You In Hell”), or they are just plain dirty, as in “Ladies Come First,” which I’ll just refrain from quoting. As to the clichés, you can’t make a song stand out when you follow a formula that’s been used a million times before; as to the content–I’m no prude, but if raw lyrics make no statement and serve no other purpose than to be dirty, then it’s just a waste of words. And whether driven by cliché or hormones, the hooks almost always bring you to a predictable punch line that serves country music probably better than rock. Sorry to be so harsh, but these lyrics feel basically phoned-in.
Then there’s the other problem—the off-genre part. After a fairly strong musical start to the record, blending solid rockers with emotional ballads, the track list seems to lose its way, devolving into a watered-down version of pop/rock with songs like “Get Me Away From You,” “Is It Just Me” and “I Don’t Wanna Believe.” The band sort of finds its way back at the album’s close with songs like “See You In Hell” and “Wanna Be Rich,” but by then the damage has been done. The opening track “Save Me” seems to promise a lot, but the rest of the album essentially leaves the promise unfulfilled.
Ironically, the high point for me personally is one of the album’s power ballads, “Talk To Me.” Honestly, its pop sensibilities don’t seem to fit the context of the album, but as a stand-alone song, it’s just got a terrific blend of rich harmony, a rich, full sound and a great hook.
All told, given the raw talent in Hinder, I had high hopes for Welcome To the Freakshow. But at the end of the day it appears that much of their potential has been squandered on a track list that just doesn’t do justice to what this band is truly capable of. In my view, what this band needs more than formulaic songs is just a clearer sense of focus. There’s absolutely no reason why Hinder could not once again rise to the top; they just need to focus their energy on what they do best, and then get out of their own way.