Bad Astronaut orbited around the nexus of Lagwagon/Me First & the Gimme Gimmes' Joey Cape and the former band's ex-drummer Derrick Plourde. Blasting off from a studio project launch pad the pair rocketed into a bigger galaxy of musician friends. Swiftly growing into a seven-strong crew, the Astronauts released two albums early in new millennium, with their third stuck on the drawing board for years. Now that set has finally landed; and with Plourde's tragic suicide, this album will be the band's and his epitaph. The set was nowhere near completion at the time of Plourde's death, leaving Cape in the difficult situation of tossing what was done or sallying on. He chose the latter, and not surprisingly the drummer's shadow falls across nearly every song on Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment, most hauntingly on "One Giant Disappointment," which directly addresses Plourde's death. Some of the songs predated this loss, but there's not one that doesn't ache with melancholy, and lyrically there's not an upbeat number on the set. A clutch of tracks heighten the emotional effect with moody musical auras, "Giant," of course, but also the cello-laced "Minus," the C&W twisted rocker "Best Western," the minimalistic "Violet," and the evocative "The Thirteenth Step" among them.
But off-setting these downbeat numbers are such up-tempo songs as "Good Morning Night," arguably the brightest track on the set, the kicking punk rock ode to a lemon "Autocare," the easygoing, space-laced indie-rocker that's spiked with complaints of life in the fast lane "Stillwater, California," and the bouncy smack down to suicide bombers "Go Humans," along with the pretty as a flower in your hair "San Francisco Serenade." This album will sit uneasily on the shelf next to its predecessors, for it's neither the culmination of all that came before nor a bridge to a new phase in the band's career. Regardless, though, Twelve Small Steps is a sublime album, musically breathtaking, lyrically full of emotional and political depths, and for the Astronauts themselves, an obviously cathartic release.