Brad feels like a longshot that came in. This 20-year-old side project somehow managed to skirt the perils that doomed so many of their Seattle peers: the decline of grunge, flannel shortages, Courtney Love. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Brad guitarist Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam) attributed their longevity, in part, to the band being an outlet for making music with no expectations. On United We Stand, this anything-goes atmosphere yields what could be leftover Rage Against the Machine cover art and a record that begins with quintessential Brad and ends in side project B-sides.
United We Stand is a tale of two halves, its first five tracks reminding listeners of why Brad’s survival is such a welcome story. The dynamic of Gossard’s melodic leads creatively mixing with Shawn Smith’s (Satchel, Pigeonhed) soulful vocals shines on the beat-driven “Bound in Time” and on standout “A Reason To Be in My Skin”, the latter catapulting on a dime into driving choruses and lambent soloing. It’s Smith, one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets, who gives Brad their verve here. “In a city so full of ghosts/Don’t remember… what to believe,” he belts on hypnotic rocker “Miles of Rope”, momentarily breaking the warm trance and touching a nerve. On “Diamond Blues”, he lends swagger to what might otherwise be a paint-by-numbers rocker, then hands off to Gossard for a glowing closing solo. These tracks are Brad at their best: celebratory and uplifting, even when dealing with bleak subject matter.
Unfortunately, little of what makes this record so rewarding from the get-go surfaces on the back half. “Last Bastion” and “Tea Bag” bring all of the bluster of earlier tracks but none of the personality, relying on watered-down riffs that sound like they’ve been collecting dust in an abandoned Seattle recording studio for a couple decades. Smith’s subtle vocal turn on the gentle “Make the Pain Go Away” is beautiful, but it’s not enough to carry this spare song alone. And the nearly six-minute “Through the Day” closes out United We Stand on an utterly confusing note, nearly half the lyrics lost to Smith’s mumbling delivery (almost like an exaggerated Wes C. Addle). It’s a shame given the gorgeous arrangement.
“We’re in this bad boy for the long haul,” Gossard says of Brad’s future. This time around, unfortunately, the long haul only lasted half a record.
Essential Tracks: “A Reason To Be in My Skin”, “Miles of Rope”, and “Diamond Blues”