The Grey Agents - Last Generation
It’s impossible to dislike this band. Even if every song does hit as conclusively as you might like, The Grey Agents possess an obvious enthusiasm and talent for what they do that redeems any and every misstep. Their second album Last Generation brings saxophone player Phil Wyatt into the mix in lieu of a lead guitarist and it has a transformative effect on songwriting that already rated top shelf before the band made this move. The Grey Agents, despite such changes, still comes across as much of the same band we encountered on their first album Classified Misinformation, but more fully realized – the songs more confident, the arrangements tighter without risking the songs, and engaged with the material in an inspired way. The West Virginia based five piece are, in essence, starting from square one again with this release, but Last Generation is exactly the momentum generator they need to launch this new chapter of their journey.
They get things off to a rollicking start with the opener “She’s Everything to Me”. Brian Cottrill’s wild-eyed, energetic singing for the track perfectly suits the lyrical content and there’s a complementary lead break in the song’s second half that sticks in the memory. Davin Seamon’s piano and organ playing fleshes things out with color and a consistent melodic touch. “The Underdog” kicks off with a brief instrumental rave up lead by Wyatt’s saxophone before the band launches into the song in earnest. This tale of bygone high school days has an especially effective chorus and has immense, easy-going charisma. Cottrill takes on lead vocal duties again and delivers the lyrics with great verve. Wyatt’s first lead vocal on Last Generation comes with the song “This Train” and the chorus makes great use of backing vocals to further sweeten Wyatt’s talents. One of the greatest strengths of this performance comes from the drumming – it gives the uplifting lyrical message a urgent snap that gives it a more exultant mood.
The album’s nominal title song, “Last Generation on the Planet”, flirts with a harder rock sound than we’re accustomed to from the band that’s quite fitting for the song’s subject matter. There’s a strong sense of indignation coming from the words, musical performance, and vocal alike. Drummer Bob Workman’s first lead vocal on the album comes at a memorable point and, despite the rougher sound, works well with Cottrill’s guitar and Wyatt’s saxophone. It isn’t a particularly hopeful number, but it’s honest. The comparatively sedate “The Celebration of the Stars” has some evocative slide guitar from guest musician Matt Eakle and Seamon’s organ playing is, once again, a key melodic piece in the song’s design. Cottrill’s lead vocals show another emotive level to his singing talents. A modern murder ballad of sorts, “The Murder Farm (Hammer to the Head)” is one of the album’s more unexpected numbers and mixes strong keyboard passages, theatrical and bordering on light progressive rock, with a much more straight-forward, near punk stomp that blends improbably well. “Nothing But a Blinding Light” burns with low-key guitar and organ menace without ever sounding overwrought and Phil Wyatt’s vocal communicates the lyric with laconic weariness that’s quite effective. There’s something for any lover of rock and solid songwriting on Last Generation and you’ll be hard pressed to finish even a single listen without concluding that The Grey Agents have found the right direction for their musical future.