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Blue October

Miserabilists in America hooked into the melodramatic delights of post-millennium alt-rockers BLUE OCTOBER – a sadly-named excuse for a band or the next big thing from the Lone Star State. Not to everyone’s taste it seems, many pundits have pigeonholed them as mere R.E.M., (GABRIEL and COLLINS era)-GENESIS and DAVE MATTHEWS BAND copyists. Identified by the angst-riddled singer/songwriter/guitarist, Justin Furstenfeld, Britain has yet to feel the spirit of BO, despite the quintet serving up several studio sets and some time-filling live-in-concert CDs.
From San Marcos in Texas, Justin, his brother Jeremy (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye (mainly violin and mandolin) set out their stall in 1995, recruiting bassist Liz Mullally along the way. Helped by their manager parents, and some early-morning television showcases on ABC’s KTRK-TV, further bookings came their way when KID ROCK’s manager Michael Rand took the unsigned act on a busy touring schedule.
BLUE OCTOBER’s debut album, THE ANSWERS (1998) {*7} was independently released by RoDan Records and available by mail-order only. Selling out its 5,000 copies in a short space of time, there was light at the end of the tunnel when the group signed to Universal Records. Justin’s poetical prose feature on several high spots on the album: `Two A.M. Lovesick’, the wistful `Breakfast After Ten’, `Black Orchid’ (about suicide) and the uppity `Italian Radio’, all fan faves.
Liz was now out of the picture for BLUE OCTOBER’s major record deal set, CONSENT TO TREATMENT (2000) {*7}, while two newcomers, Brant Coulter (guitar) and Matt Noveskey (bass), settled in as they became a hot touring quintet. Bittersweet songs about breaking up, `Breakfast At Ten’ and `The Answer’ make other appearances, but it’s down to `Independently Happy’, `Amnesia’ and `Balance Beam’ to sweep an exuberant track listing.
Although Matt was still involved in the band’s next set, his replacement Dwayne Casey was on board, as was Brant’s substitute, C.B. Hudson. HISTORY FOR SALE (2003) {*6} was originally meant for Dallas-based indie, Brando, but Universal had re-instated their intentions just after its release. A bit of a “marmite” set in its half-punk/half-AOR appeal, and that distinguishable, gushing vox of main man, Justin (examples: `Razorblade’, `Calling You’ and `Inner Glow’), Texas had a promising act on their hands.
With Matt out of the picture for the live homecoming CD/DVD package, ARGUE WITH A TREE… (2004/5) {*6} – his berth taken by Piper Skih – FOILED (2006) {*7} was definitely BLUE OCTOBER’s finest hour. Entering the Top 30, the introspective nature of Justin’s passionate vocal chords was best served by `Into The Ocean’, `Hate Me’ (their first major hit) and `18th Floor Balcony’. The need for FOILED FOR THE LAST TIME (2007) {*6} – a second live double-disc – was beyond anyone but the most loyal of fans and anyone from the rest of the globe who missed the original.
Toying with post-grunge long after its sell-by-date, APPROACHING NORMAL (2009) {*5}, pumped iron like never before, Justin snarling and sniping at the world through kaleidoscopic spectacles, while procuring Britisher-style accents in the Guy Garvey mould on `Kangaroo Cry’, `Say It’ and the appropriately-titled `The End’. Aarrgghh – and then another Brando-endorsed live effort, UGLY SIDE: AN ACOUSTIC EVENING WITH BLUE OCTOBER (2011) {*5}.
Hudson-less and ready-made for another wallowing excursion into the over-produced arena-rock stadia, the Top 10 ANY MAN IN AMERICA (2011) {*5}, was at least pandering to the common man/woman; it was also the group’s first release on Justin’s Up/Down Records. A sad case of stop-me-if-you’ve-heard-this-one-before, stating domestic upheavals and everything else near the kitchen sink (Justin had just divorced), only `The Chills’, `Drama Everything’, `The Money Tree’ and `The Feel Again (Stay)’, were worthy of its overrated chart position.
Album number seven, SWAY (2013) {*6}, took an ethereal/ambient approach on a cut or two; one example `Breathe, It’s Over’. Still, fans (“Blue-bers” anyone?) flocked to buy the Top 20 record in the same way ELBOW acolytes did in Britain – no comparison. Maybe songs such as `Light You Up’ (very bubbly and electro-organic) and the angst-ridden `Hard Candy’ will grow and grow with further listens, but the group’s testing point will be if the UK finally decides to “let them in”.
Bypassing another strictly fan-friendly concert CD/DVD package, THINGS WE DO AT NIGHT (LIVE FROM TEXAS) (2015) {*6} – recorded a year earlier at the Dallas House of Blues – BLUE OCTOBER sprung back into action, and indeed the Top 20, with studio album number eight, HOME (2016) {*6}. Recorded prior to C.B. Hudson breaking his collarbone in a dirt bike accident (the moody 5-piece would subsequently rope in Matthew Ostrander (ex-Viv) to fill, as it turned out, the permanent void), this set had young Americans salivated over its swooning pop-rock grooves and subfuscous submissions. Boxes ticked for melodrama and melody, their “bi-polar art-rock” manifesto was elasticated for best bits, `Time Changes Everything’ (at 7 minutes), `Heart Go Bang’ and the title track.
2018’s I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY {*7} chalked up another Top 30 place for the quartet, who’d now feature Ostrander’s replacement, lead guitarist Will Knaak. As brooding and acerbic as anything from The NEVILLE BROTHERS to The NATIONAL, Furstenfeld’s downcast but dramatic flourishes were defined arena-calling `Daylight’, `I Want To Come Back Home’, `How To Dance In Time’ and the 9-minute finale `Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built)’. The album also reached beyond its paranoid perimeters by introducing some catchy 80s-styled mini-symphonies in `Let Forever Mean Forever’ and the bouncy, LIVING IN A BOX-meets-BLANCMANGE-like title track.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2013-Sep2018

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