[6 April 2011]
PopMatters Events Editor
It was only three short years ago that the Melbourne, Australia, natives known as Skybombers made their splash into the American garage rock scene with their debut album Take Me to Town. The album’s lead single, “It Goes Off”, was a semi-hit for the band, but most of their notoriety in the scene came from extensive touring in the US and abroad. Unfortunately for a band like Skybombers, the challenges to stay relevant in the states while being mired in a genre that saw its heyday decades ago are abundant. One might expect a progressive leap in creativity or, at the very least, a few bold tweaks in sound from the band on their second offering. Sadly, this not the case with Black Carousel.
The album starts off promisingly enough with “Love Me Like You Used to Do”, an extremely catchy number marked by Hugh Gurney’s gruff, everyman vocals, a lovely key track, and a upbeat tempo that suits the band’s style. This is the type of song a band like Skybombers thrives on. It’s a track whose sound pays homage to great alt-rock of the past while maintaining a pace and attitude that still feels current and relevant. Had the band been able to harness this throughout the course of the album, they may very well have had a very good record on their hands. Unfortunately, as they say, it’s all downhill from here.
The band’s lead single, “Lies”, attempts to piggyback on the opening track’s sound, but fails in its own premise, which is to tell us about the usefulness of lies. Gurney’s attempt at storytelling about his childhood fibbing does little to expand on the definition of the word. You could get the same idea by picking up the Merriam-Webster and achieve about the same level of enjoyment. The painful songwriting seeps into “Everybody”, which features a chorus of “Up here I see everybody / In here I’ll be anybody / We’ll never know just where we are, but here we stand”. I can’t decide whether the song is a lesson in existential nihilism, a nod to last decade’s emo culture, or if it’s just plain bad writing.
It’s hard to settle on the latter, as Gurney, at times, shows flashes of brilliance. This is perhaps best seen in “All at Sea”, an extremely relatable song that touches on the sinking feeling of lost love as he exclaims “Again you tell me that time will ease the pain / And then I say ‘I fucking hate your confidence.’” It’s also evident that, despite what we find in “Lies”, Gurney is also able to tell a story, as showcased in the pub song “One for Two”. Unfortunately, the band continues to trip itself up with momentum killers like the title track, “Black Carousel”. Another depressing number, “Black Carousel” is not only lyrically poor, but the pace is so slow and muddied that it throws the entire flow of the album off course.
Fortunately for Skybombers, they’re able to finish off the album with two of their strongest tracks, “Sister Jealousy” and “Jenny and the Night”, both of which reflect some of the promise found in the album’s opening track. However, this is what makes Skybombers’ Black Carousel so frustrating. It’s clear that the talent is there and that the band truly care about their craft, but their inability to maintain even a portion of that flare throughout the course of the album is extremely disappointing. A sticker on the front of the album proclaims that “they may just be the next big stars of garage rock.” This could very well be so. But in order for that dream to come true, Skybombers will need more than just a catchy opening number and a few pleasant moments along the way. They’ll need to craft a great album.