After four studio albums, Breaking Benjamin
have released their first greatest-hits record, Shallow Bay: The Best of Breaking Benjamin
, and it’s a package that very much demonstrates the band’s ability to merge alt-metal
aggression with tuneful accessibility and potent emotional content. Focusing on hits and rarities, Shallow Bay
suggests that this Pennsylvania quartet aren’t exactly a deep or nuanced outfit, but they’ve been able to deliver the radio-rock goods consistently during the first decade of the 21st century, getting better as they’ve gone along.
Leaning Heavy on the Melodrama
Blasting on to the scene with 2002’s Saturate
, Breaking Benjamin, led by frontman Benjamin Burnley, drew comparisons to everyone from Korn
to Linkin Park
because of their angst-driven hard rock. And as the opening songs of Shallow Bay
make plain, Burnley at first leaned heavy on a melodramatic, self-conscious style that mixed alternative rock and metal. But even then, like on “Polyamorous,” it was catchy, hinting that Burnley’s melodic abilities had a high ceiling. As the band’s sound evolved, making room for weepy acoustic ballads like “Rain,” Burnley continued to milk his material for maximum resonance, even if it came across as sappy at times. Still, the prevailing impression left by Shallow Bay
is that the band members have learned how to make their weaknesses work for them, turning familiar song structures and overblown emotions into undeniable singles.
Showing Real Growth
The creative maturity of the band’s two recent studio efforts, Phobia
and Dear Agony
, is well-represented on Shallow Bay
, which features a nice run of smart, compact rock tunes from those two later discs. Whether it’s the guitar assault of “Lights Out” or the urgency of “I Will Not Bow,” Breaking Benjamin’s musical precision has improved without sacrificing the energy that’s always been part of their modus operandi. No question that the quartet are following a commercial formula that can make their music feel overly safe, but Burnley’s writing often injects a vitality that cuts through the slickness. He mostly sings about matters of the heart, which can get him pegged as just another dude whining about his love life, but on something like “Breath” the anger and betrayal feel too real to dismiss.
If you buy the two-disc set of Shallow Bay
, the second CD features rarities, which are mostly B-sides and live versions. This is a predictable gambit that labels use to get fans to buy a greatest-hits collection filled with songs they already have, but in this case the extras prove to be rather engaging. Stripped-down versions of “I Will Not Bow” and “Polyamorous” are both quite strong, and the remixed “Water” (originally off their first EP) is a nicely blunt slab of hard rock. (By the way, even if you buy the one-disc Shallow Bay
you’ll get “Water.”) Plus, Breaking Benjamin’s cover of Depeche Mode
’s “Enjoy the Silence” finds them striking a nice balance between new wave theatricality and alt-rock fury. The rarities offer an opportunity to see Breaking Benjamin push themselves out of their comfort zones, and the results are often quite winning.
A Period of Uncertainty
Amidst the release of Shallow Bay
, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Burnley recently fired
two longstanding bandmates, which leaves the group’s status up in the air. It’s far too early to declare that Breaking Benjamin are finished, but even if that was the case, Shallow Bay
presents a convincing argument for their legacy. Though perhaps a bit too mopey and melodramatic, Burnley’s songs have hooks that won’t quit, and he’s continued to tinker with his approach over his band’s tenure. That may not make him a genius, but he’s a consummate craftsman. What the future holds for him and Breaking Benjamin is impossible to say, but Shallow Bay
proves that for a few years at least they had a pretty good run.
'Shallow Bay: The Best of Breaking Benjamin' - Best Tracks:
“I Will Not Bow” (Purchase/Download
“Sooner or Later” (Purchase/Download
“Lights Out” (Purchase/Download
Release date – August 16, 2011
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.