After releasing a debut album which, while obviously ambitious, ultimately yielded results which were “just okay” followed by an EP that revealed a greater-than-average Blind Melon influence, Sammy Brue clearly upped his dose of Fuckitol, just cut loose and bravely elected to just have fun when it came to making Crash Test Kid. Through the eleven cuts on his sophomore LP, Brue lets each song have its own space and stand on its own; some critics would curse and call such a loose focus confusing or needlessly diffuse but, to the album’s intended audience, Crash Test Kid is a fun and refreshing experience.
There’s an instantly relaxing sensation woven into the descending acoustic guitar riff which opens “Gravity” (the opening cut on the A-side of Crash Test Kid) that will inspire listeners to exhale in contentment, when they hear it. That spry but slightly sad riff is capable of actually making listeners strain to pick up each note in the riff because it is just so understatedly infectious – so when Brue opens his mouth and delivers lines like, “I can’t help but question the path I never chose/ When the greater order gets to me, I wipe it off my nose,” it feels revelatory regardless of how elementary the lyrics actually are. Critically, listeners will already know that what they’re absorbing isn’t the most spectacular thing ever, but it’s a start and lines up neatly for the pay-off when it arrives in the next set of couplets (“I love the joy that’s all around me, I love this creaky town/ The box they built was pretty, but it could not bring me down”) – that’s where listeners’ interest gets piqued and, as the rhythm picks up thereafter, their eyes will begin to sparkle. Granted, there’s only about a minute and a half left in the song so listeners won’t get won or get the wind knocked out of them quite yet, but it’s a great tease which will get them in through the proverbial door.
“Gravity” it a good start, but the first memorable song it undeniably “Die Before You Live,” which follows on its heels. There, the tempo behind the song picks up significantly and – combined with the song’s minor key – amounts to the sort of nerve-wracking build which perfectly informs lyrics like, “Love starts in the kiss and ends in the grave/ So many drown with those who cannot be saved/ I was scrambled on the day she walked away/ Couldn’t catch my breath had nothin’ to give/ Sometimes you’ve gotta die before you live.” There is no resolution too – the song never lightens as it goes (later lines include “So rest in peace, my grieving days/ In the ground is where you’ll stay” over minor seventh chords), but an exhilaration comes with that energy that is absolutely fantastic. As it goes, listeners will feel as though they’re cheating fate right along with the singer, until the song ends.
That same kind of energy endures through the frenetic run that is “Teenage Mayhem” and only pauses for the psychodrama which powers “True Believer”before examining some comparisons to Blind Melon through “Pendulum Thieves” (which, like Blind Melon’s best cuts, is very warm and reflective upon more romantic themes and melodies) before finally winding down completely with the album’s melancholy title track.
The problem with the title cut is that it totally upends the convention that the title song should be representative of the albums wares as a whole. In this case, it is not; stripped down to just piano, Sammy Brue yelps along about harder times that listeners aren’t exactly left feeling like he’s actually experienced and yearning to “grab the wind and keep it in your grasp” before finally sputtering to a chose. It’s hard to really appreciate the sadness that “Crash Test Kid” offers because there are so many brighter spots to be found in the A-side’s running – but the song does entice listeners to flip the record over and keep with it, if only to see the direction in which the B-side will go.
Happily, the B-side restores the energy that the stronger cuts on Crash Test Kid‘s A-side featured instead of falling down the rabbit hole that the title cut charted. The side’s opener, “Megawatt,” strikes a perfect chord as Brue revisits the tones of home that Blind Melon articulated so clearly years ago, and happy times which haven’t gone away, but have become more complicated with time. That hook will get listeners to come along for the ride as “Fishfoot” adds reverb to Brue’s guitar palette and actually comes off sounding surfy, “Skatepark” turns a really promising idea into the most overwrought moment on the album and then “What You Give” bounces back with a great, boisterous rhythm which redeems the weaker cuts on the side before “Paint It Blue” dreamily strolls through to close the side, warmly. Overall, that end works well toward inspiring repeat listens (read: it’s both good and open-ended), and illustrates some great discipline on Brue’s part.
Even with all of that discussion in hand though, it goes without saying that Crash Test Kid is not perfect, but it is a good album which builds upon the successes that Sammy Brue laid down on his previous albums and does show the directions in which the singer can go to get even bigger and better yet. Unlike so many other albums released by other artists in the twenty-first century (which are either raging successes or pitiful failures – the middle ground is shockingly under populated), Crash Test Kid exhibits growth and promise and also leaves the ground open for more. That’s both exciting and endearing; it might not be perfect, but Crash Test Kid exhibits growth and promise and also leaves the ground open for more. That’s exciting and endearing; it might not be perfect, but Crash Test Kid is an album that’s easy to fall in love with.