Secondhand Serenade - Undefeated (Album Review)

Secondhand Serenade, the brainchild of John Vesley, is an artist that I'll admit to having enjoyed a lot of his music. I'll be the first to admit that when I first heard the debut album I thought it was okay, nothing too original and an overall decent listen. I, and others, compared the first album Awake to early Dashboard Confessional. Heck, at times someone might be hard pressed not to think the album was a batch of Dashboard b-sides. It shared a lot of similarities. A Twist In My Story is where John Vesley shined. It is easily his best and most developed album. After a few years away Vesley is back with Secondhand Serenade and has a new album titled Undefeated.

When I first heard the single "Shake It Off" I almost couldn't believe it was Secondhand Serenade. It was a total flip from some of the earlier material that showcased the vocal ability and emotional connection John Vesley was able to make with the listener. It almost sounded like a We The Kings b-side from one of their last couple of mediocre album(s). Sure it's one of those easy breezy summer pop songs, but it really threw me for a loop. It felt like an odd sound choice for Secondhand Serenade. It's definitely a different direction than previous Secondhand Serenade material. The song does get better and less jarring after a few listens, but regardless it's sure to catch more than a few Secondhand Serenade fans a little off guard. That doesn't mean the whole album, which basically features this new vibe, is terrible by any means. It definitely has its moments. I also think artists grow and change with the times. The heart on your sleeve emo found on Secondhand Serenade's first couple albums is great, but those albums came out more than a few years ago. A Twist In My Story came out way back in 2008. Even Secondhand Serenade's third album which featured a slight move away from that heart on your sleeve emo towards more of a pop/rock direction came out four years ago in 2010.  It's been almost half a decade since an official album so it's not surprising that Vesley's new songs are in a different direction. Things change and times change. Heck, even the heart on your sleeve king Chris Carraba of Dashboard Confessional is fronting a folk pop band these days. I would describe the overall  sound of this album as chill out beach music like you'd hear on a Jack Johnson album or some of the last couple We The Kings albums (especially their sound on the Sunshine State Of Mind album). Vocally Vesley continues to show he's got a really exceptional voice and vocal range. He doesn't showcase it quite as much on this album as he has in the past, but his vocals are still a good focal point of Secondhand Serenade and he's definitely a good vocalist.

There are a few tracks that lean more toward the alternative pop/rock side. I tend to enjoy those songs on the album that favor that style a little more. "I Don't Wanna" is a better mix of the familiar Secondhand Serenade with more of an alternative pop/rock vibe. I come out liking this song quite a bit. The album closes with "Hear Me Now" and it has the alternative pop/rock style as well and it's another song I find myself enjoying quite a bit. Veronica Ballestrini provides guest vocals on the song and her voice and Vesley's compliment each other nicely. At times the musical styles presented on the album feel slightly out of place with each other, but I'm glad Vesley included these songs because to me they're the gems on this album. I wish he'd gone more in this direction on the album instead of it being more in the minority and leaning towards those beach pop songs. One thing I think is for certain with this album is that Vesley shouldn't have any trouble finally shaking those Dashboard Confessional comparisons as this doesn't sound anything like any Dashboard album. It shows Vesley kind of stepping out of what has been a big point critics have always made about his music, which is one neat thing about this album. Whether the new style he chose for this album works or not is something I think listeners are going to have to decide for themselves.

I guess times change and so does Secondhand Serenade. I did find the sound different from what I expected. I don't mind the mostly beach pop album that's presented here, but I definitely miss that classic Secondhand Serenade sound. It's a shame because I always gave Secondhand Serenade albums a chance and still listen to and enjoy the first two albums quite a bit. This one misses the mark somewhat for me because it's not what I expected. That doesn't mean it's all together bad. Some of the songs on the album definitely have their moments and Vesley's vocals are great. Give it a chance! It's definitely interesting to hear Vesley take some chances on this album. I'm hoping that this grows on me some. It's a fun breezy album, but definitely a big departure from the earlier songs and albums.

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