Breaking Benjamin was one of the few modern rock bands on the radio that, if you have heard any song in its catalog prior, could be immediately recognized. The band’s sound is indicative of early ’00s modern rock, while also now and then being more Filter-esque or technically proficient, primarily on guitar during 2002’s Saturate, and from then on with bass and drums. As something of a less lyrically skilled Earshot-type outfit, Breaking Benjamin is often labeled as being post-grunge, but this writer feels post-industrial was once more accurate, with such tight rhythms and a lot of emphasis on electronic hum — most notably on Saturate and We Are Not Alone. After Breaking Benjamin’s first #1 Billboard presence in 2006 with Phobia‘s “Breath”, producer David Bendeth, who we will call modern emo rock’s own personal Timbaland for the sake of argument, assisted in glossing Breaking Benjamin over and creating another toss-up into Three Days Grace territory (luckily, Earshot did not receive such treatment).
Dear Agony is the unfortunate side effect of a trend in “producer” David Bendeth’s world, training wild chimpanzees to be more tasteful whilst handling silverware. “Producer” is accurate, with Bendeth being the epitome of those who create a product for future sale, starting with the rape of a potentially good rock ensemble. Lead vocalist Benjamin Burnley started out doing Nirvana covers before helping to form Breaking Benjamin and realizing that he could do spiked modern rock in the new millennium; working with Billy Corgan later on to co-write tracks like “Follow” and “Rain” for the We Are Not Alone sessions cemented his outfit’s place in modern rock. However, since We Are Not Alone, Breaking Benjamin have attempted to recreate that atmosphere, only to succumb to that fine glaze of Bendeth and gaining a #1 single in the process. Dear Agony represents a third turn at the wheel for Bendeth, and everything is becoming very Taproot-like, musically speaking, while lyrical depth suffers and we as listeners await the point of no return. Welcome to that point.
Breaking Benjamin played a show in Greenville, NC shortly after the release of We Are Not Alone. Alongside them stood the shoddy Nirvana-clone Puddle Of Mudd, riding the coattails of “Control” even then; Smile Empty Soul, who to this day feel like teens trapped in men’s bodies despite a rather impressive debut CD; and local NC modern rockers Parmalee. This is the company Breaking Benjamin kept back in 2004, and it is highly representative of what changed between Saturate and We Are Not Alone. On Phobia come 2006, the song remained the same, while the lyrics took a stab at realism and got “Diary Of Jane” before placing us with an album full of filler — Dear Agony feels as if Breaking Benjamin just has not even bothered trying.
The initial single “I Will Not Bow”, co-written by Red’s Jasen Rauch and given a push by Rock Band, comes off preachy and heavy-handed for a message Breaking Benjamin’s talked but not walked since its inception — a rise against submission. Scolding a band for making a living with its art form is a ludicrous ideology pinned to inevitable failure; Breaking Benjamin allowed itself to become sheer marketing, a true testament to “selling out”. “Sell out” is a term this writer uses scarcely due to its cliche nature as an excuse for not liking bands one claims to have been loyal to since before they “made it big”. Unfortunately, the redundancy and blandness of Dear Agony is the equivalent of a Xerox maching copying its copies, whereas eventually the original meaning is lost.
Nothing on Dear Agony is worth the purchase, nothing. “Anthem Of The Angels” and “Give Me A Sign” begin overblown and wind up to be the same old same, the album’s titular track is meandering and bleak, the album as a whole feels dated and charmless, and “I Will Not Bow” among other tracks glorifies an album not worthy of even an EP’s filler. If this had come out in 2004, it would have been considered a throwaway even still, allowing Breaking Benjamin to fade with many of its peers — hell, Smile Empty Soul is still going and believe it or not has matured more than this act seems to have attempted. As much as We Are Not Alone spawned several good songs like “Rain” and “Firefly”, there is still Phobia and Dear Agony reminding us that it started this band’s current running gag…
songs that could all just as easily been parodied by Psychostick. Ironically, Psychostick’s parody of modern rock singles is called “#1 $ingle”, and it sounds better than half of the formulaic garbage found here. Do yourself a favor and buy Psychostick’s album Sandwich instead — funny metal never sounded so good. I give Dear Agony a half-star for succeeding in teaching Breaking Benjamin’s peers who not to hire for production credit.