On their sophomore album, New Jersey twosome Gay Blades—guitarist/singer Clark Westfield and drummer Puppy Mills—are interested both in the wild ‘n’ crazy that their album title evokes, as well as the civilizing influences that sand the edges off a “savage”; check the wild slashes of red lurking beneath the crowd on the Savages album cover (In actuality, the album is named after Westfield’s brother Ian Savage Wells, who passed away in November 2009 at the age of 19). That sadness aside, on Savages, the duo ended up polishing their songs a little too much, losing their verve in the process.
It’s a shame, too, because Savages gets off to a rollicking start with the fuzzed-out “Rock and Roll (Part I)”, which, with Mills’ unhinged yelps and Black-Keys’-kid-brother swagger, actually lives up to the audacious title (the duo’s got a knack for teeing up on track one, having opened their ’08 debut, Ghosts, with its lead-off classic, “O-Shot”). And after the horns (courtesy the World/Inferno Friendship Society), handclaps, and “oh-oh-oh”’s on the strutting “Try To Understand”, the Blades are looking like the Next Great Rock Twosome, but from there on out, only two songs match the energy and esprit de rock of the opening one-two punch: the riff-heavy, but not exactly Stones-y —well, maybe Some Girls-era—“Mick Jagger” (who doesn’t seem to be named or referenced in the song), and the slash ‘n’ burn of “Burns and Shakes” (“Rock ‘n’ roll done left me with a broken heart”).
The rest of the album sounds too slick and mannered – too civil, which is surprising, given the songs’ exploration of Westfield’s anguish and frustration over his family’s untimely loss. “Why Winter In Detroit?” (which ponders the “hell” of that city’s winters, ignoring three other perfectly hellacious seasons in that city), the shuffling “November Fight Song”, and “Wasted On The Youth” all veer perilously close to – gasp – early ‘00s emo, which means that sound’s been around long enough to need a timeline clarifier. Each track, as the album progresses, takes the band further from the titular notion, until on the last track, where the duo, “clutching (their) Bibles tight”, realizes that “Every Night Is Like A Revival” (and is that a string section?). Ironic? Whole-hearted? I wish the vocals were mixed a little higher and the band were more memorable lyricists so I could give you an answer.
There’s no wrong way to cope with a loss, and the making of this this album was surely a cathartic experience for the band. There’s half a very good album lurking in Savages, but the Gay Blades seem to insist on making themselves respectable. What rock ‘n’ roll band tries to be Eliza Doolittle?
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// Notes from the Road
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