Imitation is the best form of flattery, they say. True in some cases, but certainly not a rule to live by: what if, par example, the flattery in question is of a level of quality that could actually offend the subject it’s supposed to be flattering?
A perfect case in point is British punk in the 1970s. Mr. John Lydon, the man who helped spawn a million spiky-haired, gob-soaked bands in the Sex Pistols’ wake – far from being proud of the scene that subsequently sprung up – actually detested the majority of acts that made up post-punk, new wave and beyond. Even a heroin-addled punk upstart would’ve noticed flattery was conspicuous by its absence.
Now, take the Latebirds, and consider Last of the Good Ol’ Days – most of which feels like a watery, contrived facsimile of former greats: the Band and Tom Petty in particular. This is an album that tries its very hardest at almost every turn to deny its Finnish roots – the Latebirds, of course, originate from Helsinki. However, in doing so, the band layers up everything with keyboards, southern U.S. rock guitars, and the affected vocals of Markus Nordenstreng: a man who sings like he wears sunglasses indoors and takes himself far too seriously.
Whether the purpose of Last of the Good Ol’ Days is to relive the glory days of U.S. alt rock – or bring something new to this oft-visited genre is unclear; what is clear is that despite the middling results on this album, The Late Birds are certainly getting noticed by the artists that have influenced them. Strange, eh?
So, while the Latebirds are bagging enviable guest spots with Patti Smith, and, on the five-track bonus EP Woodstock Sessions that accompanies this release, they’re lent contributions by Kris Kristofferson and Levon Helm, we’ve got tired Jeff Tweedy pastiches, and rehashes of Dire Straits’ “Romeo & Juliet” in the form of the cringe-worthy “Like Father Like Son.”
Grizzled delivery and endeavours to sound as authentically American as possible aside, it’s when they let go of their reference points that it all falls into place for the Latebirds: “Summer Becomes Fall,” for example, is fantastic: it’s like Bruce Springsteen without the ego and the stadium pomposity, a summer radio song that a latter-day Bryan Adams would be proud of. It’s undeniably likeable – a shining, melancholy-drenched classic that, were these not such troubled times for guitar music, would be a hit-in-waiting.
Away from the unassuming pop tune or two, the lyrics of Last of the Good Ol’ Days are occasionally inspired: indeed, we’re often in protest-rock territory. “Don’t believe what they reported, truth will be distorted,” goes “Fearless”; a lament to murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaja, it’s a moment of genuine passion and integrity.
If you struggle to love the bulk of Last of the Good Ol’ Days, the bonus disc Woodstock Sessions will be completely superfluous. And it’s a shame the Latebirds still need to repay their musical debts three albums in. However, with the guidance, respect and support they’re getting from their heroes, they may actually learn to live without them and move on.
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// Notes from the Road
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