For those who feel weary of the over saturation of new artists’ takes on old school soul, fear not. St. Paul and the Broken Bones are here to make it all better for you. As if they sensed that we needed a fresher perspective, they’ve sexed things up and allowed themselves to be a little rougher around the edges, more adventurous. Sea of Noise still has that signature Paul Janeway croon, but it’s more interesting than anything that’s come before it. The hooks are catchier, the arrangements a little spacier. Broken up with three less-than-a-minute interstitials, each titled “Crumbling Light Posts”, the Broken Bones seem to be aiming for a dreamier concept.
By default, Janeway and his band have an old fashioned aesthetic. With his Otis Redding-inspired vocals and the band’s horn section, it’s impossible for them to deny it. And Sea of Noise doesn’t do away with that sound, it just has more fun with it, updating it with the times. The appreciation and influence is still blatant, but though there are strong references to Al Green, these songs feel more contemporary. And it’s not all feel-good gospel. Janeway gets more introspective and observant with his lyrics, too. “That’s my daddy with a gun/Shooting someone else’s son,” he sings on the charged seventies groove “Brain Matter”, a protest song in its own way. This time around, Janeway doesn’t shy away from exploring deeper themes – race, sexuality, faith – in his songwriting.
It’s important to remember that Sea of Noise is only the band’s second full-length album, making it even more exciting that they’re pushing the limits of their sound, rather than settling into what’s comfortable or safe. “Is It Me” ha s a country-fried twang to it, while “Flow With It” is pure, addictive soul-pop, and “Midnight on Earth” is a disco-inflected dance floor gem.
Still, the band knows they excel at tried and true R&B, complete with Janeway’s dramatic, drawn-out notes. Songs like the gender-bending “I’ll Be Your Woman”, the slow-burn “Sanctify”, and the powerhouse vehicle for Janeway’s rich, velvety voice “Burning Rome” are exactly what we’ve come to expect from St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and we are not disappointed that they’re included on Sea of Noise. We need these warm heartbreakers, and the band expertly executes them. It’s a blast to hear these guys do what they do best, but even better to know they’re searching for more, and Sea of Noise sets the bar high.