Although Shinedown's 2003 debut Leave a Whisper eventually made its way onto my list of most underrated releases, I remember being decidedly underwhelmed with them at first--I'd heard their lead single "Fly From the Inside" on a radio sampler and dismissed it pretty quickly. Then I saw them in concert and a couple of my friends mentioned really liking them, so I dug up a copy of the CD, gave it another try, and couldn't believe I'd so readily shoved it aside. Of course, they then hit it big with the far mellower "45," and followed it up with a cover of Skynyrd's "Simple Man" and re-released the disc in 2004 with the cover and a couple other bonus tracks.
Since when a band hits big with a song not particularly indicative of their style, there's a temptation to shift a bit to match what worked for you (off the top of my head, Sugar Ray), I was a little concerned about what might come of Us and Them. While I liked the moody lead single, "Save Me," it didn't do much to encourage me, and I must admit that much like with Leave a Whisper, I was completely nonplussed and ready to put this one on the stack of disappointments.
Good thing I got busy and ended up listening to the CD a half dozen times or so before starting to write this, because just like Leave a Whisper, this has really started to grow on me. There are a fair number of slower songs, such as "I Dare You," "Some Day," and "Shed Some Light," that will appeal to the crowd that made "45" such a hit, but I think they succeeded in still writing something useful instead of just rehashing the one song a half dozen times. In addition to that, the Skynyrd cover seems to have sent them back toward their southern rock influences, as some of the tracks such as "Yer Majesty" and "Atmosphere," serve up some boogie-tinged hard rock. And I guess you might call the 7-minute ballad "Lady So Divine" influenced by southern rock, too, although I personally think they overextended themselves a bit on this one--the song starts to lose steam about halfway through. Producer Tony Battaglia left his mark all over this CD, sharing writing credits on 10 of the 13 tracks and with his daughter reciting the opening poem "The Dream."
This isn't a genre-shattering or -defining release, but if you've liked anything they've done in the past you'll probably like most of the songs on this release. If you're put off by it at first, put it down for a few days and then give it a second shot, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.