The Bravery have never exactly been critics' darlings. After the breakout success of their single An Honest Mistake back in 2005, they were panned as new wave revival by the numbers, with a singer who couldn't decide if he wanted to emulate Robert Smith, Simon Le Bon, or Morrissey. While these criticisms may have been true, they missed the point entirely; The Bravery's self titled debut was never intended to be the next Pet Sounds, it was just a fun, synth pop record. After all, it's hard to deny how entertaining the first half of that record is; each song is about as well crafted as any other new new wave one put out in this decade.
Then on their sophomore release, The Sun and the Moon, Sam Endicott and company did away with most of their best qualities in favor of a more mellow, britpop laced set. That they were trying something different was certainly commendable, but the result held no real charisma, and it was basically passable though forgettable pop. This time around, with their third album, Stir the Blood, The Bravery have not so much returned to their roots as taken a new approach that works. Much like Ladytron did on their third album, the direction here is more goth inspired and post-punk sounding, and the lyrics hint at a messy breakup. While the songwriting here isn't nearly as good as that on Witching Hour, it's still much better than it's predecessor, and easily on par with the debut.
Adored starts things out with a brooding verse and a chorus that tries a bit too hard to soar, but it works all the same. What really sets the mood is Song for Jacob, with its wild synths and pressing bass line. Endicott's vocals are a smidge reliant on a strangely gothic sounding snarl, but he truly convinces as he shouts, "There's more inside of me than skin and bones" in the chorus. The midtempo lead single Slow Poison (which preceded Stir the Blood by about a month and a half) keeps the momentum going, but ultimately serves as the calm before the storm of Hatefuck. The anger bang accolade's shrieking keyboards quickly give way to the relentless beat, and Endicott croons angrily about.. well, the imagery isn't exactly difficult to imagine. The song startles in the middle with a detailed guitar solo akin to that in The Faint's The Conductor, and it wraps up nicely in under three minutes, as unexpectedly as it began. Frankly, with the exception of the title, it would've been an even better lead single; it's a solid, catchy, and aggressive tune, as well as highly representative of the album's sound.
The almost equally suggestive She's So Bendable (noone with a dirty mind is going to take this metaphorically at first glance) has a great laid back feel, without coming across as a labored attempt to sound like a single (as the preceding I Am Your Skin does), similarly to the ensuing The Spectator, which is carried largely by Mike Hindert's great, understated bass playing. He is also largely responsible for the fantastic groove that Red Hands and White Knuckles has, which keyboardist John Conway expertly layers over with an almost distorted harpischord sounding melody, blinking synths, and a soft harmonization. Jack-O'-Lantern Man is quite possibly the strongest song here, despite a more than passing resemblance to their 2005 hit Unconditional. Along with Hatefuck, it fits in with the rest of the album's more reserved groove while injecting a massive dose of energy at just the right point. Stir the Blood closes with Sugarpill, a very Interpol/latter day Ladytron sounding track on which the band backs Endicott's moping with a fittingly moody atmosphere that almost steals the show.
While it's true that The Bravery aren't afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, this doesn't take away from the fact that they (lead songwriter Sam Endicott, namely) are quite capable of writing great alternative dance music. Stir the Blood proves that when they play to their strengths, The Bravery can put out some truly solid stuff.