On his second album under his own name, 2009's Spent Bullets, Adam Franklin has all but forsaken any traces of electronic experimentation left over from his Toshack Highway project. He's also left behind the hard-charging sound of Swervedriver, which was starting to creep back into his playbook on Bolts of Melody. Instead, Franklin focuses on the kind of low-key, soft-focus guitar balladry that provided many of the highlights on Bolts. It's possible that since the album was being recorded at the same time Swervedriver were re-forming and touring, any itch Franklin had to make noise was being thoroughly scratched elsewhere. Apart from the misleadingly spry album opener, "Surge," he and his small group make almost no concessions to rocking out on Spent Bullets, with few tempos that inch above a languid crawl, guitars that wind around each other in hazy coils of effects, and vocals that aren't showy or dripping with emotion conveying a fragile tenderness. A lot of talk has always focused around the guitars of Swervedriver, but the secret weapon was always Franklin's laid-back vocal style. He's only gotten better over time, and given a lovely melody like that of the cowboy lament "Teardrops Keep Fallin' Out My Head" or "Autumn Leaf," he can make your heart do funny things. The vocal harmonies on Spent Bullets are something special, too, especially on the stunning "Big Sur," which sounds like a lost America classic (if America were guitar heroes as well as harmony wizards). Fans of guitar interplay won't feel slighted by all the great vocals. Franklin and fellow guitarist Locksley Taylor don't do any shredding or lay down any riffs that will turn up on Guitar Hero anytime soon, but they do deliver plenty of restrained beauty, and Franklin still excels at creating fluid guitar lines that lift your spirits. Check the elegiac "Champs" for a nice example of their subtle glory, or the truly melancholy-sounding lead lines on "Bolts of Melody" for their near-perfect sense of what works in these songs. And this is one of the strongest batches of songs Franklin has written in a while. Indeed, the combination of great vocals, guitar near-perfection, and powerful, emotionally gripping songs makes Spent Bullets one of the best albums Adam Franklin has been associated with.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra