“Graffiti on the Train”
Kindred spirits: Manic Street Preachers, Portishead, U2
Show: Sunday at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7 p.m. 202-265-0930. www.930.com. $25.
In Europe, Welsh quartet Stereophonics is known as an arena-rock band, filling large stadiums and auditoriums.
Yet there’s not much rock on “Graffiti on the Train,” the band’s well-crafted but inconsistent eighth studio album. Of the 10 songs, only the Kraftwerk-meets-Motorhead “Catacomb” is fully uptempo. Most of the other tracks are epic ballads or slow-burn struts, keyed to frontman Kelly Jones’s acoustic guitar and raspy voice, which are often swaddled in strings and horns.
Beginning with the band’s 1997 debut, “Word Gets Around,” Jones has shown himself to be a deft storyteller. A film school graduate, he conceived of this album as a movie and has written a screenplay for it. The title song, in which a man dies while spray-painting a marriage proposal on a train car, is the most melodramatic episode. Such vignettes as “Take Me” (a duet between Jones and girlfriend, Jakki Healy) and “We Share the Same Sun” are less contrived and more effective.
The movie influence extends to the music. Composer David Arnold, whose credits include four James Bond scores, contributed to the cinematic arrangements. And although this album’s style is still fundamentally guitar based, the mix of clattering electronics and swirling orchestration recalls soundtrack-smitten 1990s trip-hop. Musically, Stereophonics’s script is still being written.
— Mark Jenkins