It's somewhat expected. After Matt Caughthran and company spent five years nurturing the band's Latin-infused and folky alter ego, Mariachi El Bronx, they've lost some early edge but not their heart.
Truth be told, it might have happened without a 5-year album break anyway. Listening to III and IV creates the immediate impression that this would have been the band's progression. They were already leaning toward rock in 2008 and the new release just completes the journey in the best possible way.
The Bronx lays down a rock revival with some punk tendencies.
The band even seems more comfortable with the new distinction. A hard rock band with punk leanings is much more brash than a softening polar opposite. In fact, even as the album eschews most of the band's punk influences in favor of riff-based hard rock, the little they do keep is where it all counts.
On tracks like Ribcage, the best song on the album, The Bronx delivers everything fast and frantic that is much more indicative of their punk beginnings while still sounding fresh. It gives their new rock sound an overall sharpness, which is what many mainstream rock bands lack. But not The Bronx. They still know how to balance out their music perfectly.
Other tracks that matter, like Too Many Devils and Torches, simultaneously prove how versatile The Bronx can be. While Too Many Devils lays down a driving tempo, supported by big riffs and frenzied percussion against Caughthran's persistent wail, Torches drops a gear to deliver a quieter, lyrical melody framed by powerfully climatic choruses. They are impossibly different, but each distinctively good.
Between those two tracks, Pilot Light showcases Joby J. Ford and Ken Horne with a standout classic rock track, with only Caughthran's gritty scream to keep it from sounding like an overtly simple rock staple. Youth Wasted and Along For The Ride are better suited to that mainstream stereotype.
In those cases, Caughthran smoothly delivers straightforward anthem rockers that sound fine on the first pass but forgettable after several. Both are solid and might even be strong on someone else's album. But knowing The Bronx is better on the bottom half makes them (and maybe the first four) an exercise in patience. You have to wait for the album that is infinitely better from track five forward.
Even the power lament Life Less Ordinary is more interesting than any of their straight-up rock offerings. The track becomes a standout in its spareness while also carrying the strongest confessional lyrics on the entire album. It gives Caughthran something to croon about before an amazingly solid closing track.
Why the band broke from punk beyond playing live shows.
When members Caughthran, Ford, Horne, Jorma Vik, and Brad Magers sit down to make an album nowadays, they are always looking for magic to help make it happen. Caughthran has often said that their albums tend to make themselves, taking on a life of their own after a couple of tracks.
That didn't happen after the band produced their third record (or maybe during it). They hit a wall. So rather than becoming an aging punk band that becomes progressively softer and uninspired, they took a semi-hiatus with an alter ego band (while still playing punk shows too).
IV was the first time in five years that the band felt ready to come back, but this time as a rock band with a punk edge. Interestingly enough, the band wouldn't even mind if their dueling creative pursuits would merge, but they still haven't figured out how to make that happen. The closest they've ever come is Life Less Ordinary, which could have been written as a Mariachi El Bronx song.
IV by The Bronx Riles Up Rock At 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Overall, IV from The Bronx is a solid rock revival for the band. There is no question it's strong enough to bring back some of their rock prominence. Right now, the band is playing sold out shows in the United Kingdom with plans to head to Australia in April. The band is also touring Mariachi El Bronx with a short run stateside in March.
Meanwhile, The Bronx IV is on iTunes or the album can be found on Amazon. You can also pick up The Bronx IV on Barnes & Noble. Ribcage, by the way, can be downloaded for a limited time free from the band's website. For show listings, check out their Facebook page.