"Trouble on my mind, getting lost in these fast times, I'm falling behind," laments Bouncing Souls frontman Greg Attonito on "Fast Times," the second track on the 23-year old band's ninth album (and Rise debut), Comet. Unfortunately, for the first time, the lyric rings all too true. Throughout their career, the Souls have been a lightning rod of youthful enthusiasm, quick to write songs about their BMX crews ("East Side Mags"), self-boosting recreation odes ("Ole!"), and the sheer joys of male friendship ("Manthem). They could do poignant just as well, as on heartstring tuggers like "Gone," "Sing Along Forever," or "True Believers." The documentary Do You Remember? 15 Years Of The Bouncing Souls, released in 2003, made it seem like the Souls would be one of those evergreen bands, increasing in vitality as time went by. While that dream may not be entirely over, Comet has caused it to severely trip and fall on its face.
The words "lazy" and "Bouncing Souls" never had good cause to appear in the same sentence, much less the same review until now, but the 10 songs that make up Comet are just limp facsimiles of past triumphs, played with what seems like especially diminished enthusiasm by the band members themselves. They're done no favors by the slick production job, the stock chord changes, the easy rhyme schemes taken by Attonito and the awkward stabs at minor-key tracks, which come off sounding like the sort of angsty punk that occasionally pops up on mainstream radio playlists. Even their ever-reliable background "woah"'s sound tired. Additionally, the existence of a song like "We Love Fun" (which actually sports lyrics about wearing "fun shoes" and "party pants") is just inexcusable. For a band that made its name already writing songs about just about everything fun in the world, it is the most forehead-smackingly redundant of redundancies.
That there actually exist a few moments of hope on this record makes the whole experience even more maddening. The Souls try on being a slow to mid-tempo pop group on a few tracks here, such as "In Sleep," "Coin Toss Girl," and the title track, and it's a surprisingly good look for them. Then, there are moments like the hardcore gallop of "DFA," any of guitarist Pete Steinkopf's blazing solos, or the growl of Bryan Kienlen's bass on "Baptized," which may be the only truly invigorating song of the set, that make one wish they would just break out of the lethargic box they've trapped themselves inside, instead of tentatively tapping on the windows.
That it's been six years since the Bouncing Souls last proper full-length (not counting 2010's Ghosts On The Boardwalk, which was technically a collection of 7-inch and EP tracks that the band released as part of their 20th anniversary celebration), and this is what they deliver, is not a good sign. Listening to Comet is a bit like noticing a beloved family pet move slow or breathe laboriously for the first time: a disheartening sense of frustration at what they'll be capable of doing from then on out.