Todd Underwood – Upside Down – Album Review
Starting out his brand-new record with the longest cut you’ll find on it, Todd Underwood instantly starts to reveal the depth & definition you’ll find in the tone & technique in his production & performance – and the intricate ability he has when it comes to creating outstanding musicianship for us to listen to. “Upside Down” immediately sets the tone…and we’ll get into this plenty along the way through this review – but suffice it to say for now that, Underwood is starting off on highly shaky emotional terrain. “Upside Down” will confirm right off the drop that it’s Todd’s world that has indeed, been flipped right “Upside Down” through the course of life & love and its many unexpected twists & hurtful turns. It’s a tough song thematically…especially if you feel like you’ve been there; listening to Todd come to the conclusion that he just wants the best for the love he’s lost…I mean…we’ve all TRIED to feel like that – and part of me wonders if any of us really DO feel that way. Obviously we don’t want anyone to get run over by a bus the next day after a breakup or anything like that…but it’s so hard to conceive that we’re really wishing someone we lost well as opposed to wishing that we could be wishing someone we lost well, you dig? Yet still we try. I know I’ve said it myself even in the past I’m sure. We want the best for the people we love, as hard as that may be once they’re gone or out of our lives in whatever way that happens…doesn’t mean there are any less tears over it or any less scars from the experience – but the desire to reach happiness…or perhaps the need for the loss to count for something, anything…becomes vital. “Upside Down” isn’t going to be the happiest tune you’re gonna hear this year – not many of these songs will be if I’m being truthful – but they WILL be hella real; Todd’s created a very vulnerable & sensory experience with this record that immediately starts to hit home with its title-track on forward.
The immaculate rumble and energy on “It’s My Fault” is freakin’ MAGNIFICENT – I love the way this track came out in every way. From the highly vibrant harmonies of the lead vocals, to the powerful surge of the bass-lines, guitars, and drums providing one seriously crunchy and captivating experience – Todd shifts around through a wildly dynamic track that echoes the turmoil of trying to navigate his feelings and emotions. You will find that Upside Down = the processing of Underwood’s thoughts and emotions out loud…it’s a courageous record that’s fearlessly revealing in so many ways. For some, they’ll hear the rock solid sound of a tune like “It’s My Fault” and simply dig it for the catchiness it’ll so readily provide – for others, you’ll not only dig on that, but you’ll also love the depth that comes along in tandem with knowing a bit of the backstory I’ll fill you in on as we go, and the way Todd’s chosen to be so direct & real about what’s essentially the crumbling of his own personal world here on many tunes. “It’s My Fault” is him taking ownership of his part in the story, for better or worse, and thrashing out from every angle at the same time in equal frustration, likely with himself – but it’s also through creating a song like this and so many others upon Upside Down that the catharsis he needs for healing, is found. In any event, having this track up front in the lineup and its neon-rock vibes pouring out of your speakers was a good move, sound/energy-wise, and thematically; I think it’s important in a record like this one to know that Underwood might be superhuman when it comes to making music, but he’s just like everyone else when it comes to the sting of love’s vengeful bite. A record like Upside Down would play a whole lot differently if it wasn’t fueled by so much introspection and objectivity; let’s face it – it’s HIS album…he could have easily played the hero if he wanted to – “It’s My Fault” proves he’s just being real about it all, from his perspective. He’s not looking to score any points here, just get this all out and into the open, if only to be able to move on again…and chances are, by making this record, he now will.
The bold definition in songs like “In Your Head” early on in the lineup will totally reveal how Todd’s years of experience within the industry prior to his solo career have all played a significant role in what he does now…the man’s built on supplying excellence. Whether that’s out of habit for making sure he had everything professionally in-line to please the clientele, or if that’s just the way Underwood has always been, I couldn’t say – all I can ever tell ya for sure is what I’m hearing right at the very moment in time that I’m writing these words down for you to read. “In Your Head” will flip the script and remind us all that there are two sides to every story, and in the case of any breakup, quite often both sides play a significant role in the breakdown. “Is it something that I said, or just who I am?” – that’s a powerful line right there that well warrants further examination. I think a lot of us go through this moment, and I feel like Todd’s found an incredibly insightful way of putting it into words here. Think of that line in this regard though…if you’ve ever been in a relationship that you’ve thought about getting out of…well…that’s the thing isn’t it? You’re looking for that out. You’re looking for that thing someone said that can justify something so much bigger – like who the person is overall, or the fact that you’ve come to the conclusion you’re just not compatible any longer. It can be a hard situation to be in from both sides…but it also suggests a further breakdown in the relationship of honesty & communication overall – the mere fact that you’d have to question whether or not “is it something that I said, or just who I am?” tells you that the lines of communication have been broken & frayed…and that one side can no longer really trust the other to be telling them the straight honest truth. “In Your Head” is Underwood doing his level best to process a whole ton of feelings in an effort to get to the truth about why things ended.
Dude is so freakin’ impressive when it comes to his range and ability to create genuine fusion through the style & sound of his music…like, you just can’t possibly write-off a track like “Made To Be” as merely any other Rock song with how much Underwood can put into one tune & how many twists & turns he is able to supply in a singular experience when he’s inclined to go that versatile route. Sure there’s plenty of Rock to be found here…but you could also claim these are intense & heavy Pop hooks…you could even argue there’s a slightly noticeable light reggae vibe in the mix here as well at points, you could mention the soulful way that Underwood sings too – and all of this would be valid commentary to support what else is happening around the Rock at the roots here. How do I know? For two reasons – one being that I just heard it all happen with my own ears, and the second being, that I just wrote it all down here, didn’t I? So it must be true. “Made To Be” is a tough one to listen to on the outside of Todd’s experience…like, we’re pretty much taking a front row to the man’s suffering in so many ways in listening to this record…and that doesn’t always make the entertainment go down smoothly, you feel me? I mean, absolutely EVERYTHING you’ll hear on Upside Down is ridiculously bulletproof and played with unrivalled passion & conviction…there’s zero doubt about that – but thematically, every cut so far has offered a different glimpse into the heartbreak that’s taken him over. “Oh…there’s something wrong with me…” as he’ll tell ya in the hooks here…and he’s not wrong – right now, there clearly is; it hasn’t affected his musicianship or his ability to execute on a 100% professional level, but in the words, you’ll clearly hear how the situation of his last year has affected the balance of peace in his mind. It’s pretty much because the material on this record has come out so savagely strong that we know the guy’s ultimately gonna be okay…but quite honestly, on a lyrical-level, you can hear he’s devastated.
I don’t know if I would have cited the King’s X comparison in my review of Todd’s music from 2019 on his Reflectings Acustico…but I might have on the record prior, Color And Contrast. If I didn’t, I bloody well should have! In any event, you’ll not only see the influence on him proudly listed on his social media, but man-oh-MAN will you hear that roar to life throughout the bulk of this particular set-list on Upside Down. Whether it’s the meatiness of the bass-lines, flexible song-structures, or brilliantly vivid harmonies…you’ll find the comparison is valid & warranted for sure…and bloody well EARNED through such spectacular results. Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, it’s one thing to be able to list a comparison, and it’s entirely another to truly know that the influence is authentically present; Todd clearly loves King’s X, as do I. To hear someone like this guy take that style of adventurous sound and run with it in so many fantastic directions as he does on this album Upside Down, is freakin’ awesome, full-stop. I could throw an entire bag of rocks and empty it right to the bottom here in Canada before I’d likely even hit another person that KNOWS King’s X…which is…well let’s just call a spade a spade, it’s embarrassing, but it’s also the stone cold truth. You’ll hear it in several spots though…and of course, there’s an advantage to that – King’s X is a versatile band to begin with…following that band’s catalog will take you all throughout the map of Rock & back again, and Todd’s treading on a similarly diverse path here, with equally thick & rich sound to go along with him. Even in the softer-side of his sound on Upside Down like you’ll find on “Tell Me It Will Be Ok” you’ll notice the comparison rings true in all the right ways; Todd’s far from being a copy of his heroes, but definitely a student of the style that is able to cleverly twist it all into his own unique thang. There’s actually quite a bit of identity in Todd Underwood’s music to be found, despite any similarities or comparisons that may come up – I always feel like I’m listening to him at all times, and that matters.
“Love Like That” would be right up there with my favorites in just about every category of measurement. At the VERY least, bass-lines and guitar solos…this is the crème de la crème as they say – the gold standard…and a superb display of the powerful combination of performance & production used to maximum effect. LISTEN to the meatiness in the bass-lines! That’s the best thing you’ve heard this side of Faith No More’s “Epic.” LISTEN to those guitar solos too will ya? Color & style for miles this guy has! While “Love Like That” will still take a few jabs here and there at the concept of love, it’s a bit more of a dialed-back track in comparison to what we’ve heard so far on a personal level, widening the scope to include us all. I’d be really hard pressed not to have this track right up there with the best of the best of what you’ll find on this record…there’s even a solid chance this would be right in there with my own top two or three – I love, love, LOVE what this track has to offer our ears. I think it’s first half comes out super strong, and I felt like the latter instrumentally-based half was more perfectly played than I’ve heard ninety-seconds come out in any song this year. It’s just exceptionally tight, and completely outstanding to listen to…and as much as I might like what some of the other cuts have to say on this record a bit more by comparison, when it comes to the instrumentation this pretty much can’t be beat.
“Sing Me A New Song” is where you can really hear how Todd can thrive & compete with so much of what’s been rocking out there over this past decade, and rival it from the independent scene without all the major label assistance the mainstream gets. Something like this cut really isn’t that much of a distant cousin to something that you’d hear in the circuit of bands like All American Rejects, Panic! At The Disco, Blink 182 or Fall-Out Boy…it’s got a lot in common with that sound without being too much like it that you’d immediately assume it was from that era. He’s rockin’ within the love-song framework, as you’ll find Todd operates in many of the themes at the core of his tunes…ain’t nothing wrong with that, he’s clearly a lover, not a fighter – that’s more than cool with me. If this guy is throwing punches it’s likely straight through your speakers to your face-holes…otherwise, based on the demeanor of his tunes and the themes you’ll find, it’s fairly safe to say he’s a peaceful dude. Peace as in like, the non-fighting kind of peace-guy…I absolutely cannot vouch for his neighbors and whether or not they get any peace whatsoever with Todd’s tendency to rock right out at a moment’s notice. Another brilliant allegory & metaphor that he’s writing within – think of “Sing Me A New Song” as equal to the idea of a second chance or another try…that maybe that new song will be the one that finally resonates in the right way, and it’ll make all the difference somehow. And maybe it will. “Sing Me A New Song” is a solid example of how fresh these feelings all still are for Todd, and how he’s still got a long way to go in terms of finding the closure he’s looking for. Creating this record will most certainly help in the healing process…but there’s no question in hearing “Sing Me A New Song” that if things could still go back to the way that they were before…chances are, he’d be more than onboard with that with all he knows now.
“O My Soul” is probably one of the most important tunes you’ll hear on this record when it comes to understanding the core of what Upside Down is all about. That being said, to pick any one tune out of the lineup as any more important than the others in terms of the overall experience would be insane – there’s a reason that all these ups & downs in the energy occur as we listen, because Upside Down as a whole is a direct reflection of what Todd himself has described as “one of the worst years” of his life, and each track is a piece of how he’s been able to navigate through it. Especially here mid-record as the tracks tend to bend towards a sweeter disposition – “O My Soul” exemplifies the heart of sincerity and the honesty you’ll find within his writing & sound. Highly emotive and thought-provoking as well, you can hear the yearning of a man just looking for a little bit of love and attention here…if only not to feel so damn alone in this universe for a moment or two. I love that you can hear the strength in this song build like you can see the sun rise on the horizon…you KNOW this cut is going to find its way to a more rambunctious gear, but it also sounds like such a logical build of energy and inspired conclusion. “O My Soul cries out to be loved” in the main hook becomes so much more as its repeated, the sense of urgency, seriousness, and desperation in communicating this very real feeling gets evermore intense. Let’s be real here…Todd’s all-out heartbroken in making Upside Down…he can do his best to disguise it for a moment or two, but there’s no questioning the heavy shroud of sullen emotions on this record. He makes a solid case for himself being on the way to being okay through the words he’s written into a track like “O My Soul” – but there’s no doubt you can still hear the pain and the heartbreak in there too.
Maybe “Free To Forgive” is even more essential to getting to the perspective of the man behind the microphone and all this radiant music we’ve been listening to. Here’s where you get to the heart of a lot of the values that Todd personally holds dear to him, and gives you a detailed sense of what’s important to him at this stage of his own life. Plus, I mean, obviously amazing guitar solos in there for ya as well, that’s nearly a given – but beyond the flawless way this guy performs, he gives you a real glimpse of the man that makes the music here…and to me, it’s this kind of stuff that always makes the difference. Many of us are blessed with the gift to Rock or write a song – but not nearly as many of us have the courage required, or the understanding, that the more YOU there is in any tune, would be the very reason we respond to it as listeners, and exactly why a moment can connect with a resounding impact. This man gets it. When he’s not locked into the heavier grooves…he switches into something that’s likely a bit more accessible to the masses (see aforementioned comment on how few of my fellow Canadians know who King’s X are) that’s almost like…maybe closer to the more aggressive side of Toad The Wet Sprocket’s sound…something along those lines. It tends to ring true in comparison because there’s always so much additional depth provided to these tunes by what Todd has to say, or even more-so, how he says it all. I felt like this was by far the most uplifting track on the record, and Underwood at his strongest, even in this more delicate setting of sound – he’s finding his feet again here and the ground underneath him once again. “Not gonna let it define me, not gonna let it confine me, and I won’t be eaten by bitterness” comes out as one of the most vividly real feelings you’ll find on this entire record – in fact, it’s completely thanks to this song that we know deep down, he’s gonna be OK.
When he hits the transition of “I Miss You” around the 2:30-ish mark, that’s where my previous comparison to Minus The Bear that I made to Todd sometime in 2019 would still completely apply – and again, that makes my world turn – I’m more than stoked about that similarity. That being said, I found myself in this weird place while I was listening to this track…thinking to myself how much I was enjoying it and how right up my alley a song like this can be in so many ways…and then coming to the conclusion that maybe it’s probably a bit sad & melancholic for public consumption if I felt this attached to it. I would imagine a dude like Todd probably considers himself a guitarist first, then perhaps a vocalist or bass-player after that…somewhere along those lines…but make no mistake folks, he’s probably much more well-rounded in all areas than even he’d give himself credit for – if it has strings attached to it and there’s a place to plug in, get OUT of his way, because awesomeness WILL ensue. Even on tracks like “I Miss You” where the demands of the actual musicianship might be slightly less intense on him, the way he plays…the hard hitting depth in the drums or the passionate rumble of the low-end in the bass…these are the kinds of moves that get noticed in my world. And then yes…I’ll readily admit, quite often the sadder a song can be, the more I’m apt to like it…misery loves company and I’m always ready with the Kleenex. The most you’ll find me conceding here is that a track like “I Miss You” isn’t always gonna be the song that people wanna hear…there’s more of a ‘time and place’ for a tune like this – you’ll reach for it when you know you need it, but it would likely crush the good-time vibes of your Friday night, 100%. “Pictures come alive, will our memories survive” is one of a great many insightful lines you’ll find on this record, but definitely one of my favorites…think about it…the very idea of looking at something familiar and having the feeling that used to come with it disappearing on you somehow. Tragic – “so sad to let it go” as he’ll tell ya himself, and he sure ain’t wrong. Anyone that’s loved & lost will find a ton here to relate to…especially if that time came to an end all too soon…”I Miss You” is very sad stuff, really well executed. Songs like this will haunt you heart just as much as your mind and have you digging right into the nostalgia of your own past; like I mentioned, sometimes you wanna revisit that, sometimes ya don’t.
Tender moments like “Without You” have come out well in his favor from start to finish…especially in the vocal department. I mean, admittedly, this song is a lot more bare-bones in its acoustic-based ingredients, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the ability Todd has to leave nothing else to be desired when it comes time to record – the man goes full-out, gives it everything he’s got, even in the most subtle moments or delicate songs. “Life is not worth living without you” – I think anyone that’s really been in love understands just how powerful that line actually is here…because you feel this through the way Todd sings this song. Especially when factoring his previous comments on what a crap ass year 2020 was…and how many of these songs seem to point towards a love that’s dissolved and gone all-too-soon…I mean…there’s no other way to put it than it would simply suck to be stuck in a moment that feels so wrong. Love isn’t always requited…sometimes it’s nothing to do with the people involved, sometimes it’s simply bizarre circumstances or terrible timing…but that doesn’t make it hurt any less when it’s not there and we still want it to be. “Without You” comes out with one of the album’s sweeter sounds on the surface, but the more you dig into this tune, the more you’ll discover it’s one of those cleverly disguised love-songs with massive depth to it…and endless well of unresolved feelings and a burning desire for that to somehow change. Time will tell…2020 was a hard year no doubt about it, and quite certainly for Todd as he’s explained…here’s to hoping 2021 treats this man a whole lot better.
“Merry-Go-Round Of Pain” is probably gonna find itself right up there with the best titles I’ve read this year on any tune out there…that brought an immediate wry smile to my face. Obviously, it’s not going to be about the infamously hurtful children’s playground ride of which most of my generation & older are still healing scars from and suffering mild versions of PTSD, but it does conjure up the image right away, especially in tandem with the word PAIN right there along with it. Then you get the gripping dose of heaviness ripping through your speakers and it all adds up perfectly…LIFE is the “Merry-Go-Round Of Pain” – am I right? Like I said…this concept & comparison he’s laced into the writing will make you smile out of respect for the cleverness every bit as much as it’ll make you grit your teeth for its accuracy. Listen to this guy LIGHT. IT. UP. will ya? Not just in the killer crunch & squeal of his guitars – which is as stellar as always – but listen to the layers of vocals will ya? He’s put this all together exceptionally well; I wouldn’t call him intentionally deceitful here, but you’ll be highly impressed with how accessible Todd can make extreme sound to be – he is CRUSHING microphones with his teeth in the background layers of this track and spitting out the cables like old chicken bones! Dude sounds enormous, even from way off in the background – but it’s that same technique that makes what happens directly on the surface of a song like “Merry-Go-Round Of Pain” have that more accessible & glossy coat of finish & finesse on it. Like, my wife would listen to this track…and where she’d normally get up to go and grab a coffee in the middle of me playing something with someone screaming their bloody nuts off involved, I can guarantee she’d have no problem sticking it out for this, because that’s how well Underwood has it structured. What hits you is the accessible sound – it’s in a closer listen that you actually notice everything happening underneath…and personally, I think tracks like this are freakin’ fantastic – it gives us music lovers the total ability to dig right in like we want to, without pushing away everyone else in the process.
Todd likes a lot of things when it comes to making music – it’s one of my favorite things about the guy and has been since I first started listening to him. You can hear his penchant for fusion throughout so many of the tunes on this record, in his catalog, and certainly right there in the final track “Coming For You” to remind ya of his extreme range of sound & style one last time before this album is all over. Does this one work all-around? Honestly…that’s a tougher call – I probably questioned the inclusion of “Coming For You” a bit more than any of the rest by a significant degree or two. There’s a very BIG Rock sound to this one…closer to that theatrical style you’d expect in stuff like Van Halen & whatnot…I’m not judging y’all out there that dig on that band, there’s lots of reasons to; it’s just never really been my thing. Thankfully, like all things Todd Underwood, you get a piece or two that might remind ya of something, but never so much that any one comparison would completely cover it all…so to compare this cut just to Van Halen would be a crime – there’s still a lot of something much more intense in the stomping & storming around here, more akin once again to something along the lines of Faith No More. If anything, he’s ended this album on notes that sound like the man is looking for a fight more-so than any other, throwing away his usual cool of emotions in favor of a fiery burst of angst & hurt, directed at the one person that knows this whole record was completely and totally about them from start to finish. Upside Down is definitely one hell of a heavy experience all-around with its dark shroud of emotional warfare goin’ on…”Coming For You” kind of takes it all in a different direction than the rest, but ultimately, Todd’s still displaying a range of feelings you’d know full-well are logical ones that spring up in our heads during the most illogical times. This whole album was stunningly well executed, hella heartbreaking, and undeniably based on some extremely real feelings still being felt to this very day; but even though he’s so bent out of shape he’s damn near broken entirely…you can’t help but feel that the immaculately high level of focused songwriting, stunning musicianship, and pure passion will bring him back to his full 100% potential…and that making music just like you’ll find here, will be what saves him.
I’ll do my best to get to the bottom of this whole story in the future to come…interview plans are currently being formulated with good ol’ Todd Underwood here and I’m stoked to talk music with the guy…stay tuned for more details on that coming down the road here. Until that magical time arrives, listen to more music by Todd Underwood from his page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6s0HaFwLwAh5e2BgTYLaaj
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