If ever there was an evocative album title, it’s Wayward Sons’ newest. And the Toby Jepson-led outfit have a point. In an era of fake news and doublespeak, frankly, the truth ain’t what it used to be. Making no secret of the fact they weren’t going to make another Ghosts of Yet to Come, this album is very much the natural evolution. Where the debut was very much about raw, driving guitars to form that classic hard rock, the follow-up is carefully restrained, adding in more melodic moments and musically, just a touch tamer.
But that’s not a knock against the album. It’s a deliberate move on their part to progress and show what else Wayward Sons are capable of whilst still being Wayward Sons. However, there’s still a whole heap of aggression, it’s just been shifted to the lyrics, bringing light and shade to the baker’s dozen new songs they’ve got. To call this a more mature effort would be reductive since it matches the debut on that scale, as would the idea that this is them fully realising their full potential.
Naturally, as the band take certain facets of modern culture to task, such as fake news and modern politicians being in their line of work not to make the world a better place but to enhance their own lives, they’re ensuring they’re a band who have something to say. Utilising their platform, they’re using the power of rock and roll to highlight and remind us of the issues we deal with in our day-to-day lives. It’s the perfect juxtaposition as the music itself has that magic which allows for sheer escapism yet its lyrics does the complete opposite.
Whilst it’s not a concept album in the traditional sense of telling a story from start to finish, it does have an underlying theme. If anything, it’s like Duff McKagan’s album this year which did the same thing, albeit putting different issues and struggles under the lens. What they do share is their signing off of offering hope. Here, “Us Against the World” with its initial subdued mood builds to a crescendo where the idea is for every person to help the person next to them in order to see the change we seek. However, its poignancy does have the shine rubbed ever so slightly with the hidden track which follows it. “Totally Screwed” is bathed in cynicism and acceptance of one’s fate but Jepson’s vocals are laced with a mirthful tone to ensure that it’s a very tongue-in-cheek approach and he doesn’t truly feel that way, much more on the penultimate track’s line of thinking.
There’s plenty of bombast on offer through the peaks and valleys of opening tracks, “Any Other Way” and “Black as Sin”. Almost as if it’s to get you comfortable and reacquaint yourself with Wayward Sons before delving further. The familiarity continues later with tracks like “Punchline” and “Have it Your Own Way”. However, it’s in the more complex numbers where the band truly shine as they develop their sound, pushing it forward. “Joke’s On You”, with its keys is reminiscent of prime cut Mott the Hoople and you expect Ian Hunter to drawl the lyrics of “All the Way From Memphis” at times.
Elsewhere, “Feel Good Hit” strangely enough has the same grit and groove of the similarly-named “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” by Queens of the Stone Age, albeit in a more traditional hard rock styling but still veering into a more alternative slant. The complexity of “Fade Away” revisits the heavier use of keys and its composition is much akin to vintage Queen. Meanwhile “Long Line of Pretenders” blends the best of both worlds into one song and is a perfect representative of the album as a whole.
If there was one word to describe The Truth Ain’t What it Used to Be, it would be “darker”, for that is what it is. It’s moodier with lyrics designed to engage and simply the next chapter in Wayward Sons’ story. If they had rehashed the debut, I don’t think I would have been disappointed but the fact they’re showing evolution is far from unwelcome, too. Admittedly, Ghosts… took several listens for me to finally love it but I persevered as I knew it was there and with every listen, it sunk its teeth a little more. This follow-up does exactly the same but here, it feels more deliberate. Nothing outstays its welcome but neither does anything seem like it could have benefitted from an extra something. The production, much like its predecessor is magnificent, bringing what is essentially a classic rock band to meet the modern era. This may be the most genius album of 2019.
The Truth Ain’t What it Used to Be is out now