A band’s image can be a blessing and a curse. While it helps a group stand out from the pack, it can also linger on for far too long. Billy Talent knows all about that. After its first, self-titled album, the group was pegged as a one-dimensional pop-punk band, as famous for singer Ben Kowalewicz’s siren vocals as guitarist Ian D’Sa’s big, sculpted hair. Ben toned down his shrieking—“I don’t want to be known as the Scream Guy,” he said—and sang less explicitly angry songs on Billy Talent II. But the stereotype persisted.
Now, with its third CD, the award-winning, top-selling Toronto quartet should have no trouble shattering that image. Naturally titled Billy Talent III, the new album, produced by Brendan O’Brien (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam), emphasizes the group’s penchant for deeply personal songs and grunge-era influences. The group, which also includes bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, is now clearly a thoughtful hard-rock outfit. And Ben has tempered his vocals, especially on the near-ballad “White Sparrows” and the Police-like homage “Diamond on a Landmine.” While not quite crooning, his voice has never sounded so soothing.
But Billy Talent has hardly gone soft. “Devil on My Shoulder,” with its chunky riffs, and “Rusted from the Rain,” a tortured ode to marital divorce, feature the band’s trademark gale-force energy. And “Turn Your Back” is a stirring, Clash-like call to social action. Having outgrown the typecasting, Billy Talent has evolved into a serious band with staying power. Maturity becomes them.