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Sensible songs, but poppy problems. - 68%

GOOFAM, June 11th, 2018

After vocalist Tony Harnell left the band in 2006, TNT quickly fell off their 2000s hot streak and fell back into a rut only slightly shallower than that of their bewildering late-‘90s alternative phase. 2007’s The New Territory floundered, with a disjointed set of tracks that seemed aimless and ill-conceived, even as replacement vocalist Tony Mills seemed largely up to the task of filling Harnell’s shoes. The band regrouped quickly and released a followup album, 2008’s Atlantis, which is often regarded as a continuation of the missteps of its predecessor. While this is somewhat true in an overall quality sense, the notion that Atlantis makes all the same mistakes The New Territory did is quite a stretch.

What made The New Territory so maddening wasn’t that TNT abandoned their core sound—they did to some extent, but nowhere near as much as, say, Firefly—it was that the songs didn’t make any sense. It was as if Ronni Le Tekrø wrote twelve verses and twelve choruses—only three of which were any good—and then threw darts to see which would go together. By contrast—and this is a big relief—all the songs on Atlantis are coherent, with sensible progressions and a grounded sense of dynamics. Everything here is tolerable, and the kitchen-sink approach of The New Territory, with its inappropriate backing vocals and string augmentations, has been dialed back and used only where it actually fits.

In fact, what remains of Le Tekrø’s experimental songwriting actually gives the album a sort of progressive edge at times. This is most apparent in “Tango Girl,” which throws in a bunch of extra instruments that give it almost a western kind of atmosphere as it progresses. Songs like “Peter Sellers Blues” and “Had It, Lost It, Found It” clearly bear the mark of post-Harnell TNT with their eclecticism, but what they lack in directness, they make up for in adventure, and acquit themselves as well as most of the material on, say, All the Way to the Sun.

The problem with Atlantis is though the songs are far more neatly organized, and interestingly organized at that, a number of them are just bland pop songs of various sorts. The album really falls into a rut from “Me and Dad,” a decent if unexceptional long ballad, through “Missing Kind,” which is the worst thing on here, starting with ten seconds of faux-Black Sabbath before turning into something that could literally have been done by the Backstreet Boys. In between, you get the bland Beatles knockoff of the title track, “The Taste of Honey,” which would be good if not for the ridiculous lyrics, and the silly ‘80s pop of “Bottle of Wine.”

Still, at least half of the album is reasonably well-written, and these guys certainly can always perform. Le Tekrø’s guitar tone, perhaps the one strong element of the previous album, remains quality here, and his riffs and solos are both quite strong on the good tracks. Mills continues to do a convincing impression of Harnell, though sometimes it turns into more of an impression of Harnell doing an impression of Paul McCartney. Diesel Dahl’s drumming remains minimalist, though he’s a bit more active here than usual, and Victor Borge’s bass work is more present here than it typically is.

Atlantis seems to try to pull off the same trick My Religion did four years prior—create a sprawling, multifaceted hard rock record rooted in AOR but showing command of a variety of different styles. It doesn’t really do that effectively, but at least it makes some sense as a piece of art, and the band still shows the ability to catch some fire when they stick to what they’re good at.