Say what you will about The BoDeans, at least they make it easy on people. For the past 28 years, the Milwaukee band has been more or less coasting on adult contemporary cruise control, offering up hearty helpings of homespun, hook-heavy alt-pop that, while almost shamelessly safe, still manages to warm listeners’ stomachs like mom’s home cooking. From fans of classic rock, mid-’90s alternative, folk and pop, the band’s music touches on just enough of everything to offer everyone something.
So it’s easy to forgive fans for not sitting on the edge of their seats in wonder at the prospect of a new BoDeans album, which in 2012 is about the same thing as wondering what it looks like when the sun shines. American Made, from its title and rustic, carved-wood artwork right down to its 12 courses of flavorful pop rock, leaves nothing up to the imagination for anyone old enough to remember Party of Five. Album opener “All The World” kicks things off with the band’s patented brand of pastoral, heartland pop that sits somewhere between Tom Petty and Keith Urban, and the rest of the album settles into that same comfortable, broken-in place like a well-worn pair of work boots. “American” sounds pretty damn American, anchored by a rollicking drum beat and the band’s ever-present use of accordion. The BoDeans even throw in a well-placed, backwoods cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” It’s an album that works in its own time-tested, well-defined way, but by any other measure American Made just sounds like a complacent band spinning its wheels.
The path of least resistance works for some bands, and the BoDeans have had more success following down that road than most. But American Made feels so set in its own ways at points that it’s stifling to listen to, and it ultimately sounds like the work of a band that’s spent far too much time placating the masses. At this point, that’s stale criticism for a band that’s long been wading contently through pop/rock’s calm waters, but it’s hard not to wish they’d stake a claim to something other than the middle of the road.
Essential Tracks: “All The World”, “I’m On Fire”, and “American”