Although the name alludes to the infamous sophomore slump, Grandaddy has not only managed to evade this fate but made this album its most impressive work.
The Sophtware Slump is a concept album cautioning society about problems with modern technology. It paints a landscape of failed industrialism—of an earth littered with androids and airplanes left behind. However, it is unclear if the machines are partying, or rotting away and poisoning the earth with their remains. Grandaddy equivocates between winding draws of unshakably desolate sounds and upbeat pop chops that give kicking it with a rusting washing machine a certain appeal.
There is obvious contempt for the growing gadget dependency that characterized the new millennium, but the band never commits to blaming the earth’s projected demise on machines or the people who used them in the first place. This turn-of-the-century prediction was a sign of the times as The Sophtware’s 2000 release followed Y2K scares and the realization that technology is not infallible.
Grandaddy ambitiously launches the album with the ethereal “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot,” which clocks in at nearly nine minutes. While a seemingly pretentious choice for an opening track, it provides the perfect album preview. It’s spacey and unsure but at the same time oddly hopeful and exploratory. The song begins with cautious steps into minimalism with lead singer Jason Lytle’s voice accompanied by nothing more than light guitar strums. Gradually, electronic runs are peppered in and finally the song seems to fully take flight with an added string section. As quickly as the song develops, it retracts and reverts to crashing piano that halts the progression then circles back to the initial structure. These blooming highs and shattering lows laid side by side in a delicate but cohesive construction are applied as an overarching theme of The Sophtware Slump.
While it certainly lacks the sugary immediacy of Grandaddy’s debut Under the Western Freeway, the album still has first-time accessibility—hard to come by with science fiction concept albums.
The more obvious, bouncy guitar-driven ballads “Broken Household Appliance National Forest” and “Hewlett’s Daughter” are easily and immediately received from the largely brooding album. However, The Sophtware Slump would simply be an electronic version of their debut without the calculated sadness of tracks like “Jed the Humanoid” and closer “So You’ll Aim Toward the Sky.”
Grandaddy is at its best when it meets itself at the crossroads, combining foreboding, post-apocalyptic lyricism and enchanted electronic instrumentals. Such is the case with highlight “The Crystal Lake.” Based by a steady guitar and pre-programmed keyboard scales, the track is straightforward enough to fulfill its pop requirements, but it retains the quirky intentions of the album as a whole.
It is doubtful Grandaddy was suddenly overcome with paranoia of a technological overthrow.
Rather, the group’s abrupt shift from the brightness of its sunshine sing-a-long debut to dark atmospheric pop was a clear nod to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Assuredly, The Sophtware Slump was not able to reach the same level of accomplishment but instead operated as a successful bandwagoner to the tech trend. It gave definite credit but never encroached too closely on Thom Yorke’s work.
The Sophtware Slump’s sound remains ageless in today’s soundscape. Any of the tracks could just as easily have been released in 2011, marking a longevity that few pop acts achieve. While Grandaddy’s disenchanted view of technology has not come to fruition thus far, its intuition about the future of indie pop was dead-on.