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Playing it too safe - 74%

GOOFAM, September 14th, 2017

TNT must have felt quite revitalized after My Religion, and rightly so, as that album had the strongest set of songs the band had come up with in its long career, and it managed to erase the colossal missteps that comprised the band’s previous two late-‘90s efforts. The newfound sense of momentum in the band’s camp is reflected in the gap between My Religion and its followup All The Way To The Sun, released barely 18 months later. It’s a short turnaround by 21st-century musical standards, and all the more so given that My Religion spent three times that long in the incubator.

Much as one would hope that All The Way To The Sun’s quick assembly resulted merely from a particularly explosive burst of creative energy, there are a lot of signs here of a rushed product, one that is preoccupied with holding onto the My Religion sound and somewhat loses its way in that single-minded focus.

Mind you, this record is not a disaster of any sort. What we have here is a collection of well-performed, well-produced AOR tunes much in line with the bulk of the material on the previous album, but with a little less inspiration and without the handful of more adventurous cuts that really gave My Religion a sense of ambition and scope, to say nothing of upping the overall quality. In short, the band maintains the feel of My Religion here, especially with near-identical production choices, but they seem to have missed what made that album special.

The result is a set of songs consistent in style but inconsistent in quality: about half of these would fit nicely on My Religion, and the other half sound like rejected cuts from that album. In this era of digital downloading, if you grab “A Fix…,” “All The Way To The Sun,” “Save Your Love,” “Ready To Fly,” and the “What a Wonderful World” cover, and throw them in a playlist with the previous album, you’ve got a heck of a 75-minute ride. “A Fix…” and the title track move with more urgency than most of the material here, “Save Your Love” is a singalong anthem in line with My Religion’s title track, and “Ready To Fly” is my pick for the best song on the album, with some very interesting vocal work from Harnell, especially with the galloping chorus harmonies. As for the “What a Wonderful World” cover, it is the one clear curveball on the album—there are no ballads—and it’s a very odd choice for a cover, given that there’s nothing bluesy about this band. Still, they choose to give it that standard 6/8 blues eighth-note treatment, which one might think could be a Firefly-level disaster, except it’s done rather tastefully and Harnell sells the hell out of the vocals.

The rest of this album, though, is taken up with merely listenable, uneventful songs that range from dreary AOR (“Too Late,” “Me and I,” “Sometimes”), to pop-rock (“Driving”). “The Letter” is worse than even a lot of their late-‘90s alt-rock, with a woeful chorus, and “Black Butterfly” also has some Transistor in it, though it’s a better version of that sound.

If My Religion showed how well this kind of AOR sound can work, All The Way To The Sun provides some evidence of its trappings. AOR, almost by definition, is not a style overflowing with energy. It connotes midtempo cruisers with the occasional ballad—formats that can easily slip into background noise if the songcraft isn’t impeccable. All The Way To The Sun will keep you awake—these guys are too talented to pass by for 44 minutes unnoticed—but it coasts along with less variation than any other Harnell-era album, and its adherence to such a breezy approach leaves it fairly short on impact.