Just when everyone assumed the ’90s alt-rock radio format was completely out-of-date, here’s Brooklyn’s Brian Grosz with his debut solo album, Bedlam Nights. This throwback collection of grizzly, guitar-driven ballads boasts a tattooed and tortured singer-songwriter, an acoustic Portishead cover, a Parental Advisory sticker, and distortion pedals aplenty. But despite clamoring for comparisons to Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey and Tom Waits, Grosz lands closer to a second-rate Staind.
Throughout the album, and particularly on mid-tempo opener “Can’t Let Me Go” and “King James Blues,” Grosz mistakes simplicity for hooks, repetition for riffs and off-pitch vocals for signs of gritty realism. His lyrics are dark — “I’m getting sick of your shit/ Nothing a bullet wouldn’t cure” — but it’s a dull pain bogged down by corny masculinity — “Little lady, please forgive me” — and lack of humor or subtlety. Take, for example, the acoustic cover of Portishead’s “Roads,” when Grosz removes Beth Gibbons’s chilling fragility and hard-handedly squeezes sorrow out of every note.
The Daughtry look-alike does have a talent for texture. What sounds like clacking pots and pans, yelping, growling, earthy chanting, and, no kidding, cowbell make for an interesting groove beneath the album’s best track, “Someone’s Gonna Swing.” Industrial samples and layering also enhance “Lady on the Low,” but the lyric, “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, she’s the lady on the low” and the clean, high-pitched guitar solo too accurately spell Jon Bon Jovi power ballad.
After a thirty-second pseudo-Bowie sing-along and dreaded spoken-word track, Bedlam Nights screams for a producer’s ruthless editing. With his bad-boy good looks, melancholia, and rock instrumentation supplemented by safe touch of industrial muscle, Grosz could still make it to MTV with professional help. If Daughtry and Aaron Lewis can do it, so can he.