It’s been a long time between drinks for Shannon Noll, with six years having elapsed since the release of his last album, A Million Suns. Noll’s latest offering, Unbroken, is his first outing with Warner Music Australia, with Noll stating that “this album is more personal than any other before it” as he was granted more creative freedom and “input than ever”. Nollsy, as the forty-two-year-old is affectionately known by his fans, knows what it is his audience wants and he doesn’t shy away from providing it for the thirteen tracks of Unbroken.
Released back in 2016, lead single Who I Am is unabashedly country-pop-rock, with a strong electronic dance-beat feeling too overpowering in the mix leaving the whole track feeling cumbersome. This awkwardness is probably a result of the song being worked into two versions for the single release – the Living in the City and Living in the Country mixes. Despite coming across as a bit of a caricature of country/folk music, the “country” mix is definitely the most natural sounding of the two versions, so it is a shame that Unbroken is burdened with the “city” mix. Southern Sky, which opens the record and is its second single, carries a dance-anthem vibe but Noll’s vocals feel flat and unengaging.
While Southern Sky and Who I Am may create the sense that Unbroken is angling for a dance/electronic oriented sound, No B&S – for those not in the know a B&S is a bachelor and spinsters ball – and Land of Mine firmly pull the album back in a country-tinged pop-rock direction. While No B&S’s lamentation of the “fun police” and other grievances verge on the peevish, the track is one of the album’s strongest and makes fine use of vocal layering, while Land of Mine ends up straining under the weight of clichés hoisted upon it – droughts, floods, beaches, sun and heat, everything you expect to hear in a song about the Australian landscape.
Given Unbroken’s country-rock aspirations, the decision to cover a Creedence Clearwater Revival song makes perfect sense, but choosing Fortunate Son is somewhat baffling, especially given that it is treated as just a rock song with no regard for the politics that underscore John Fogerty’s lyrics. While Never Too Late isn’t the most engaging song ever, tonally it would have made for a good finale to the record, but Noll has instead opted to push on with two additional tracks, including the party-song My Body Loves to Party, which makes the album a little too long.
By and large, Unbroken is an unexceptional album that fails to truly distinguish itself from any other album that seeks to blend country, rock, and pop, but it’ll be interesting to see how Noll’s fans take to the record after such a long break between releasing new material.