Back in the 90s, Pain was an up-tempo, brass heavy punk band from the dirty south that capstoned their ride through popular culture with a song break spot on Cartoon Network about Jabberjaw. Frontman Dan Lord would frequently croon about their own fictional characters in the 1st or 3rd person, whether it be the accursed 7 Inch Cowboy or the tortured schoolkid Gavin. And sometimes the song’s subject was as simple as wanting to be in a band, from the time you’re a twinkly eyed sprout until the time you’re a weathered beet. Pain took a long hiatus starting in 2000, but as of 2019 has reformed with some returning members as Salvo. It’s been two decades, but that same raw desire that birthed their self-prophetic hit In A Band all those years ago carries on in their August 2022 release, the Traveler.
The album opens with Traveler, a two minute swell of chords that leads into a melodic progression before tampering down again. Just a little preview before the album’s second track and first highlight, Anything Can Happen Day, an example of Salvo’s new, more mature sound combined with Dan Lord’s lyrical penchant for telling a story about a character in under 5 minutes. Anything Can Happen Day is an empowering song about hitting rock bottom. Synth sections that sound like they would be at home in a Six Flags commercial divide a chorus about a broken hearted man at the end of his rope discovering that the sky’s the limit from here. This song captures the kind of optimism that can only come from losing everything, and is more of a tale of small personal triumph than mopier songs about being down on your luck.
The third track, Handyman, is a brass backed, guitar powered transitional piece leading into two of the album’s most memorable bops. The first of these is the fourth track Never Been Good At That, which is probably the first song from Pain or Salvo I would describe as both mellow and groovy. The piano leads you into the mellow and the staccato brass section brings the groove. This song surprised me with how much energy it brings in its last moments, the trumpet player letting it all out with flourishes that put a squealing pachyderm to shame. Next up is The Most Evil Person on the Face of the Earth, which is a journey for the ears. Basically everything that Pain and Salvo have done well is featured in this song: funky brass beats, lyrics about a weird guy, soft sections that sound like they’re driven by an organ. Then suddenly there’s a synth breakdown in the middle of the song, followed by some Ed Wood electronic sound effects, guitars strummin’ away and Dan Lord howlin’ at the moon. This song has a little bit for everybody, and seems like Salvo’s most experimental piece.
The sixth track, Jack O’lantern Style, lowers the tempo in a ballad written by guitarist Adam Guthrie with brass section accents about letting go, giving up, and being put on display as someone else’s plaything. Up seventh, Cry At Will features some unique string sounds that are new to the album, a consistent bass line throughout, and the first instance I can recall of accompanying female voices. Number eight, Mighty Old Man is probably the song on this album that sounds the second-most similar to a Pain song. It’s about a cranky old fella told in the third person, a confident guitar leads the piece, and there’s even some churchy influence with bells going off during the main melodic refrain. It’s Hard to Hold (400 Blows) that is the album’s most unique showpiece, as it stars a female vocalist, presumably Rachel Wilson, credited as vocals and guitar. The song opens with a guitar riff that sounds like the score to a movie about a drunk falling over in the streets, the songstress sings to us about a regretful marriage and a vocal grunt leads us into some guitar shredding halfway through.
Track ten, Lost, is a fantastical instrumental with sylvan impishness to it. Track eleven, Carnival, was a bit of a misdirect from me, being familiar with Pain’s Umbrella, which sounds like a carnival theme itself. This Carnival is more of a whistle-while-you-work ditty with brass explosions. The subsequent Crime of the Century is my darkhorse winner for best song on the album. Pain’s album Midgets with Guns featured a love song directed from Dan Lord to Ellen, and this song strikes me as something of writer Adam Guthrie’s own counterpart to it. Both feature unrelenting strumming and energy. Lyrically, Lord’s Ellen went for a more humorous take on falling in love with the weird little things about your favorite person. Guthrie writes earnestly about the rare moment of meeting someone you could love your entire life, and how easy that could be to pass right on by, neither the party the wiser. After a series of fair to middling dates, going through the motions with someone you’ve cooled on, and general character-building malaise, meeting the right person at the right moment can feel like you’re getting away with something. The crime of the century.
The thirteenth song is Extraordinary, which is of all the songs, the most Pain-esque, but also the least memorable. It’s another third-person tale about a jaded couple with mundane lives, unable to see their accomplishments until their days are done. The follow-up Give has a unique approach to its musical composition, incorporating little solo elements for almost every instrument implemented by the band in more of an orchestral feel. The last track, The King of Love, My Sheppard Is, has hints of a medley, with the opening parts resembling a section of Most Evil Person and some repeated lyrics from Traveler, but turns into more of a hymnal to take you out of the album and back into your real life.
I enjoyed most of The Traveler; the greater inclusion of piano parts, a more selective use of brass accompaniment, and the addition of songs written with Adam Guthrie’s more straightforward approach lend to the gained maturity that Salvo advertises as a difference from their Pain days. If you aren’t up for listening to the entire album, be sure to go to your music player of choice and search for Crime of the Century, Anything Can Happen Day, The Most Evil Person on the Face of the Earth, and Never Been Good at That to take in the best the new album has to offer.