After the initial sweeping vengeance of punk took hold after 1977, a sweeping platform of New Music strode in, re-landscaping pop music. In that heady era, all things converged, from Talking Heads and the Records to Joe Jackson and Ultravox. That’s the genre I sense when listening to Texas-based the Shadow, who melds punk’s knack for the inchoate and off-kilter with a savvy sense of trad-rock hooks and pop-a-delic fare. To be sure, for every bit of mustered, seething psychodrama they vent, a bit of the Age of Aquarius leaks out with modern flair, pummeling, and agility.
“Punk Rock Agent” slips into the earlobe with persistent charm, easily mustering a week’s worth of humming and silent sing-along head nods in the grocery store aisle. Sure, it lacks roughhewn edges and emotional bullets, but the tune’s caffeinated pulse adeptly combines layers of streamlined surf, titanic pop bombast, and a 1960s urge for danceability and crunchy guitar thrust. If a phenom single cut exists on the album, something for future lore about the band, a breakthrough track—this is it, a proud reign of pouncing pop-punk.
Other tracks are a bit more hard-bitten, perhaps, like the sober decry “Your Life Is Suffocating”, with retains Blondie’s knack for powerful, fiery, untrammeled rock for those without beat-up leather jackets. Other keynote tracks, like the slow-and-curvy, stomping garage-rock “It’s All Gone Wrong”, keep the jaded vibe close to the heart; meanwhile, the tempo-changing “Lone Song”, feels driven and relentless as the heyday of 1990s icons like Hole basking in big guitar rock ’n’ roll without being mired in overt phooey posturing.
“Bittersweet” offers stop ’n’ start musical action as well: ricocheting jazz-inflected drums give way to bursts of Led Zeppelin thunder, all within seconds, as the echoing lyrical calls of “Bittersweet” fill the air like a dense fog. “Cure for Culture” issues a wider lyrical proclamation, poking holes in the agendas of art critics and envious writers, fake emperors, poets of blandness and bore, and rusted sculptures. It’s a rant against prejudice and snobbery, all in the guts of a nugget-like tune.
Though the members of the Shadow may not delve like diehards into the grueling, acrid, fragmented, barbed-wire punk of lore, they wield plenty of muscled grooves, a vindictive vibe, and platefuls of earnest ennui behind guitars moored in both the 13th Floor Elevators and the Damned. Plus, at two dozen pages, the packaging is ample and handsome too.
So, while others flank the “punk year zero” past in endless mimicry, which is more about digital-age doldrums than ugly rampages, the Shadow feel a bit more luminary, open-ended, and willing to risk backlash as it marshals its own brand of elastic music without worrying about proper definitions and demonstrations of genre purity.
// Notes from the Road
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