Album Review :
P.O.D. - SoCal Sessions

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Artist: P.O.D. (Payable on Death)
Album: SoCal Sessions
Label: T-Boy Records
Release Date: 11.17.14 (US & Canada) 11.24.14 (Global)
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Track Listing: 

  1. Panic & Run
  2. Will You
  3. Youth of the Nation
  4. No Ordinary Love Song
  5. Strength of My Life
  6. Alive
  7. Higher
  8. It Can’t Rain Everyday
  9. Lost in Forever
  10. I’ll Be Ready
  11. Beautiful
  12. Set Your Eyes to Zion

When you’ve had as long and winding of a career as P.O.D. has, there are a few beats along the way you’re prone to hit. Namely, after having been a band for around two decades, one would expect a greatest hits album, a remix album, an acoustic project, and/or a live album to make its way into your discography. As of their newest release SoCal Sessions, the boys from the Southtown are really only lacking the remix project. Their live album came out well before they became a global success, their Greatest Hits album came out to fulfill their contract with Atlantic, and now P.O.D. begins their relationship with T-Boy Records with a “Greatest Hits Acoustic album” and the promise of a new record in 2015.

Having just released their last effort Murdered Love on Razor and Tie back in 2012 (which we gave a 4/5 in our review), it is a little strange to have a new label already, though not uncommon in these days. However, it is honoring to the band (it seems) to note that newcomer T-Boy Records only signs bands that are “established iconic hard-rock bands with major followings” (That’s quite the business plan in an era where record labels are dying left and right). Thus, P.O.D. joins the likes of Rob Zombie, Megadeath, and Powerman 5000 as early signers to this new effort.

For what it’s worth, SoCal Sessions is a well-done project. However, as I’ve waxed eloquent before remix/acoustic/greatest hits albums are hard to gauge as they are more fan-service in nature. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think any artist expects to draw new fans or huge sales numbers from such projects. Still, they have their place and are usually welcome additions to the artist’s discography.

It’s just that such projects are tricky to assess for many great reasons. By nature, acoustic versions of existing songs fall in the cover songs category. And, like Project 86 frontman Andrew Schwab talked about in our exclusive Project 86 Week content, it all comes down to song choice and execution. “Cover songs are tricky. You don’t ever want to do disservice to a great song, and you would never want to cover a mediocre one.”

Within the acoustic version genre itself, there are varied levels of style and success. For example, my wife love Alex Goot’s acoustic covers, in most cases, more than the originals themselves. For myself, I found Phinehas’ acoustic tracks on their The Bridge Between EP and, much more recently, Project 86’s acoustic bonus EP for their masterpiece Knives to the Future to be superb examples of what acoustic versions should be. I even named one of those acoustic tracks among my ten favorite P86 songs of all time! However, while Goot brings fresh energy to each track, and Project 86 did original acoustic tracks that are much more robust and deep instrumentally than just “a guitar and a voice”, most acoustic fare are merely stripped down versions of their original namesake. However, it should be noted, that is usually what someone purchasing an acoustic album wants and expects.

In many ways, that is what the listener will find here. While each acoustic cover is well executed, most are stripped down versions of the original that have been re-paced so that the style of the song fits with the acoustic guitar driven format. While each track is well done (often including some varied instrumentation), it would be hard to say that any one track is greater than the original version. This is no knock against this album, it is simply the standard fate for albums of this style.

To Schwab’s point, then, much of what will cause a person to come back multiple times to this album falls to song choice. Since T-Boy is pitching this as a “greatest hits” acoustic album, it is up to the listener to decide if these are really the best choices in terms of song selection.

Categorizing each song by their original album, we find a bit of recency bias going on. The focus is clearly on more recent efforts with four songs from their newest album (“Panic & Run,” “Higher,” “Lost in Forever,” and “Beautiful”), three songs from When Angels and Serpents Dance (“No Ordinary Love Song,” “It Can’t Rain Everyday,” “I’ll Be Ready”), one from Testify (“Strength of My Life), one from Payable on Death (“Will You”), two from Satellite (“Youth of the Nation” and “Alive”), and one from Fundamental Elements of Southtown (“Set Your Eyes to Zion”).

While P.O.D.’s most beloved album Satellite is well represented with both “Alive” and “Youth of the Nation” present, most of their earlier albums are sparsely, if at all, used. In fact, aside from “Set Your Eyes to Zion” (a great choice, by the way), nothing pre-Satellite is found. And, while I understand the reasonings behind this, it would have been great to see at least one OG P.O.D. track make its way into the fold. “Draw the Line,” “Breathe Babylon,” or even “Preach” would have been a great throwback track. Even other Fundamental Elements tracks such as “Outkast” would have been great to see. While we’re at it, I feel as though Payable on Death  had several songs that would have been great to get the acoustic treatment.

Some other notes on song selection: I was greatly pleased to see my all-time favorite P.O.D. song “Strength of My Life” represented and so well done. Though Matisyahu’s absence is certainly felt, his replacement on the track does an amicable job. I’ve never really liked “No Ordinary Love Song” in the first place, so its inclusion was, to me, a step in the wrong direction. Similarly, “It Can’t Rain Every Day” is such a great song, but the acoustic version removes the fantastic guitar lead in, which is an odd choice to me, and the song is one that most clearly feels “stripped down.” Similar could be said of “Set Your Eyes to Zion,” though since it has been so long since that song has crossed many people’s ears that it actually feels fresh, and was a great track to end on.

Other favorite tracks such as “Wildfire,” “The MessenJah,” “Rock The Party,” would have been nice swap-outs for some of these tracks. Most glaringly, “Selah” should have had a place on the record. This would have also give us that OG track that was missing from the fold.

On the positive side, not only is “Strength of My Life” a standout (again!), but “Alive,” “Youth of the Nation,” “Higher,” and others shine, as well. Though none of the songs overtake their original versions, as already covered, this is not a bad thing for an album of this type and these songs are nicely varied.

Musicianship: As an acoustic album, SoCal Sessions does a great job of recreating the original tracks with a new soundscape. A few tracks, such as “Panic and Run” and “Strength of My Life” include nicely varied instrumentation, however most tracks are standard fare for this type of album. This is not a bad thing, however, as P.O.D. has always had a high level of talent to them and this album highlights that in many places.

Lasting Value: As with any acoustic/remix/greatest hits album, the lasting value will depend mostly on the listener’s love for the band in the first place. Fans of P.O.D. will certainly enjoy the album, though none of the tracks really eclipse the original versions.

Overall: P.O.D. starts a new chapter of their long and storied career with SoCal Sessions. Their first album on new label home T-Boy Records, SoCal Sessions is both a precursor to their next original album and a sort of greatest hits album, all at the same time. As with any acoustic/cover album, the fate of this album rests with the listener’s love for the band in general. No single song eclipses the original version, though the album is very well done and will please long-time fans.

The lack of older P.O.D. tracks (only one song from Fundamental Elements and nothing before that) is a shame, though most of the band’s best songs are represented. In the end, SoCal Sessions will please fans of the band and give them something to chew on while awaiting their next full release.