The Grey Agents’ return with second studio album Last Generation brings a different sound and instrumental attack than we heard with their debut Classified Misinformation. Unable to secure the services of a complementary and full-time lead guitarist, the band joined forces with saxophone player and vocalist Phil Wyatt. The results take the band’s performances in a different and stronger direction than before for a couple of key reasons. Wyatt’s addition doesn’t dilute the band’s influences or the signature sound established with their first album, but gives it a more soulful, decidedly idiosyncratic style that further highlights the individualistic qualities of their songwriting. Rather than simply regurgitating time-tested subjects and themes in familiar ways, The Grey Agents prove themselves continually adept at pouring old wine into new bottles with a distinctive turn of the wrist in their presentation that provides a personal perspective on the tunes rather than falling prey to tired formulas. The Grey Agents are reborn, in a sense, with Last Generation and have likely found their footing from this point forward.
Some of the energy produced by a rebirth comes through with the album’s first song “She’s Everything to Me”. Much of what the band does still is keyed off rhythm guitar Brian Cottrill and he’s a force to be reckoned with her thanks to the careening, blood-shot eyed longing in his vocals. Bob Workman’s drums set an authoritative pace and are recorded in such a way that their snap provides a consistent jolt for listeners. Last Generation crackles with harder rock energy than you might presuppose at certain points and the first of those moments arrives with the song “Can You Feel the Rain?” Much of this song turns on one of the album’s best guitar riffs, but there’s the same sense of melodic possibility elevating this song that we hear from other entries in the collection. John Farmer’s vocal here and on his second contribution “Vicious” puts a bright spotlight on the band’s versatility in that area. The latter song is well served by a sparse, tension filled arrangement that peaks effectively with its bridge.
“The Celebration of the Stars” is one of the album’s best lyrics and definitely adopts a strong point of view, albeit disapproving, of our capricious and shallow modern sensibilities. Some of the material on Last Generation is definitely grousing, with some cause, about the ills plaguing our modern world, but the band always delivers their criticisms with more than a little dark humor and appealing musical arrangements. “Nothing But a Blinding Light”, another of newcomer Phil Wyatt’s vocal contributions to the album, is somewhat reminiscent of the earlier “Vicious” with its lean, sinewy musical arrangement and achieves a glowering intensity unique to this collection. The easy going amble of “Soon You’re Gonna See Things My Way” seems to traffic in heavy subject matter, but it’s delivered in such a cool off-hand manner that it never weighs too heavily on listeners and the lovely rolling piano lines from Davin Seamon are a delightful touch. The Grey Agents’ Last Generation will enchant any serious music fan and casual listeners will revel, as well, in their effortless ability to entertain.
by William Elgin
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