Before the release of Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment, frontman Joey Cape willingly admitted that the record does not measure up to what it should have been, and not many bands would ever publicly admit something like that, but not many bands have experienced the tragedy that befell Bad Astronaut. The band's co-creator, drummer, and one of Cape's best friends, Derrick Plourde, committed suicide last year before the completion of this album, and Cape felt the need to let people know that it should have been better than it is.
Representing what was one of Plourde's final pieces of work before he left this world, Cape wanted to keep everything his friend had tracked drums-wise, and so he worked with what he had as much as possible as a way of paying tribute to Plourde's work, even though it was unfinished. In the end, Cape had to do some editing and call in another drummer, Jonathan Gorman, to finish a few of the songs, but he did as much as he could to make the songs emulate the quality that Plourde would have been proud of, and succeeded.
Bad Astronaut has always been versatile enough to change paces and create equally excellent songs, and Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment is no different. It begins with the fantastic "Good Morning Night," a catchy, upbeat song that uses some prominent keyboard and synth to great effect, truly capturing the spirit of previous Bad Astronaut material and making it easily one of the band's most memorable songs. There are two other songs with a similar feel: "Autocare," which is possibly the best of the three, or even the best overall track on the album, and "Go Humans". These songs showcase the poppier and more lighthearted side of the band.
Stunning slower-paced tracks have often populated Bad Astronaut's albums thanks to additional instrumentation, such as in "Our Greatest Year" from Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem. Songs such as "Minus" and "Violet," both of which were previously recorded by Cape as solo songs, make appearances but only "Violet" has been changed with the addition of drums backing up Cape's acoustic guitar. The longest and perhaps most ambitious track on the album is "The Ã¢â¬ËF' Word", which is eight minutes long and successfully manages to stay engaging thanks to the arrangement of acoustic guitar, cello and piano set to Plourde's perfectly paced drum beat, resulting in perhaps one of the band's best slower numbers.
However, the biggest problem with the album is that it tends to slip away from the band's usually catchy and engaging songwriting in spots. Many of the faster songs that could have benefited from it do not contain the excellent hooks employed on their previous albums, which is a damn shame, as they are part of what made the band's songs so excellent. Tracks such as "Ghostwrite," "Beat," and "The Thirteenth Step" are far from being bad, and they still sound like Bad Astronaut, but they do not resonate the quality of some of the band's previous songs. Parts of this record feel a bit too heavy at times, falling into a style that does not seem to fit while making it sound as if Cape unintentionally carried over some of the aggression that he had on Lagwagon's last album, Resolve, even though his lyrics do not show it.
Lyrically, the songs are top-notch the whole way through, except for one track. There is one song on this record that really shows how difficult it must have been for Cape to work around Plourde's unfinished drumming, because it is possibly the worst song the band has recorded. "Best Western" feels like half of it works, but the other half does not, and the good and bad mix, going back and forth and making it stick out like a sore thumb on the context of the record. Perhaps the part that is most annoying about it is the weird chorus of the song where Cape is singing: Hey Mom / Hey Dad / I'm rad. It sounds borderline idiotic, which is very strange because that is the exact opposite of not only ALL of the lyrics on the rest of the album, but nearly all of Cape's lyrics he has written over the past 15 or 16 years, so it can be forgiven. Plus, the song is not even that bad. It is just a poor Bad Astronaut song that should have been left off the album.
Overall, Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment is a worthy final album from Bad Astronaut, but it would be impossible to say how much better it should have been. It has to be accepted that Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem was the band's crowning achievement, and this final release was a bookend to the band's story. It should, at the very least, be seen as an album that Cape put as much effort into, or maybe even more, than any other album he has recorded, and the final product was one that took a handful of unfinished songs and turned them into an album worthy of bearing the Bad Astronaut name.
8.2 / 10
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