Inspiration is a funny thing. It can arrive in many forms and when you least or most expect. But sometimes it comes to you. Bowling For Soup decided that new album 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' should be fan-funded using the music promotion website pledgemusic.com. Whatever you think about the state of the music industry and if bands should be 'taking the power back' and going it 'alone', and whether well-established bands should be using such projects as pledgemusic, this has obviously worked for the mighty BFS. With promises of backstage passes, handwritten thank you cards, autographs, Skype sessions, and house concerts - all at a price of course, BFS launched the 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' campaign. But the headlines of shameless self-promotion and money-making are obfuscating the true nature of this project. The band's intention was that fans would be involved in the album-making process, being with the band for the journey; revealing new songs, artwork and video shoots to get immediate feedback from those who pledged, with 5% of all pledges going to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
It took ten days for BFS to reach their goal (not surprisingly they were halfway within 24 hours) and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.', the band's twelfth album, was underway. And the 'inspiration' seems to have worked. Since the early 2000s and the brilliant Drunk Enough To Dance and A Hangover You Don't Deserve, BFS have been in something of a rut musically. Previous album Fishin' For Woos is the band going through the motions but without the sharp wit and pop punches - all the ingredients are there but the recipe is bland and uninteresting. Sorry For Partyin' is better, but horribly inconsistent, with wonderful songs mixed with flat fillers, while The Great Burrito Extortion Case is one of BFS's worst albums. So, what about 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.'? Does it live up to the hype, the pledges and the power of independent music-making?
As expected, 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a blend of what BFS do best... Songs of personal friendships, love and relationships, break-ups, make-ups, drinking and fighting. As the Texan quartet of Jaret Reddick, Chris Burney, Erik Chandler and Gary Wiseman grow older, their music has become more reflective - even if some of it tries to hold onto the impetuous attitude of youth, with limited success. In recent albums, this balance hasn't worked but 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' proves BFS can find it. Opener Critically Disdained is heightened self-criticism, with an acoustic start before Burney's guitar kicks in for an attention-grabbing introduction. Since We Broke Up is the early punk-pop anthem, deftly punchy and melodic, with Reddick recounting the aftermath, then building to an explosive vocal. To complete a great trio, the 80s soft-rock of Real is another highlight.
From The Rooftops is a wonderful departure from the formula - an open-hearted celebration of love with a stadium-esque gloss, but the huge surprise is Circle, the Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians cover from the magnificent Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars album. Reddick and the band treat this with the upmost respect and the delivery is poignant and note-perfect, highlighting the beautiful bitter-sweet song-writing. Reddick even resists the temptation to mimic Brickell's oddly upbeat ending, instead bringing the song to an abrupt powerful end. Then back to the formula for the name-dropping Normal Chicks, rewinding the clock somewhat but with added social commentary. Reddick attempts to rhyme 'Scarlett Johansson' with 'Romancin'. Enough said.
Into the second half and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' struggles to maintain the momentum of the first but brings it together for a strong finish. I Am Waking Up Today owes much to Green Day's Minority, a blistering blast of shouty rock while Couple Of Days is middle-of-the-road and forgettable. In contrast, And I Think You Like Me Too is light-airy pop; comic storytelling with a perfect cheesy arrangement. Showing that BFS can switch between styles and moods in an instant, Envy brings back the rock but again, it adds nothing new to the party. One thing BFS do well is the big ballad and How Far This Can Go is a welcome addition, showing yet another side to the band, before Right About Now - a delicious slice of punk-pop. Closing song Kevin Weaver is another surprise, starting as a solo biographic performance from Reddick arranged as three parts in the form of three letters to the family, before the rest of the band join for the heavier ending.
'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a fan-fuelled return to form for Bowling For Soup. The band sound back to their best, as if the last ten years never happened. Providing the album as both clean and explicit is also respecting the fans who made the album happen (and in most cases, the clean versions work better - Right About Now is the noticeable exception - putting more emphasis on smart humour without the shock factor). While 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is not the best BFS album, it is far from the worst. The new approach (to the band) has given them a much needed lift and again the quartet sound energised, motivated and fun.