I was recently talking to a colleague at work about Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip and how they became successful thanks to CanCon, or regulations on how much Canadian content Canuck radio stations have to play in order to obtain and maintain their broadcasting licenses. My co-worker turned to me and said, “You know, I used to not like The Tragically Hip, but then a friend of mine told me that there was only one way to listen to them: really, really loud. I tried it, and, sure enough, I started liking them.” So you’re probably wondering what that statement has to do with a new British band called Morning Parade—one releasing their self-titled debut on American shores. Well, I’ve given it some thought, and I figure the same rule about my colleague’s newfound liking of The Hip applies to this band, too: You’ll gain a greater appreciation of what Morning Parade is trying to do if you play the album loud. Real loud. In fact, Morning Parade clearly has ambitions on one place and one place only: the stadium. In the same way that U2 created a legion of fist-pumping, Bic-lighter waving fans with The Joshua Tree, that Coldplay garnered a similar following with pretty much anything in their back catalogue, that mid-‘90s era Radiohead did the same with an album like The Bends, Morning Parade has their sights set on the very back of the bleachers. They want to rock you, but not too hard. They’re not out to punish; they’re out to please just about everybody with pleasantry.
That would be a laudable goal, I suppose, but the problem with Morning Parade is that’s all the band wants to do. In other words, the more you listen to the disc, the more you can hear the clacking of buttons on the accountants’ calculators in the backroom of the recording studio. Morning Parade is pretty much as slick, polished, and commercial as they come, and the sole ambition of the band seems to be of selling out before they had anything of note to sell, or perhaps of garnering the leading slot of festivals played to crowds of 50,000 screaming fans. I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with that, but the band wears this desire so proudly on their collective sleeves. And thus leads to my major issue with Morning Parade: The 11 songs here are virtually indistinguishable from one another, and any of them sounds like they’re trying to be a candidate for a hit radio single. The end result is a platter that feels a little bland and generic. Perhaps for that reason, audiences and radio stations will embrace this band fully on American shores – Coldplay, after all, has made a career out of mid-tempo gushy rock anthems that make women, in particular, swoon – but, for those of us who really care about music will probably shrug our shoulders and wonder what the big deal and fuss is all about. For all intents and purposes, Morning Parade is just a clone of U2. Or Coldplay. Or early Radiohead. There’s nothing here that really distinguishes the group from such peers, or anything that makes them sound like their own special entity. Morning Parade, thus, are just a bunch of copycats at the end of the day. Nothing more, nothing less.
This is a bit of a shame, as there are moments where the group shows that they could be something much, much more. The most compelling example is ballad “Running Down the Aisle”, which features a skronky guitar solo that sounds like it was played using a floor polisher. And “Headlights” is sort of interesting in that it audaciously drops the drum track at key moments – even though this does seem like an overly calculated move at the same time. However, that’s all that make this band stick out from other groups that came before them. To a certain degree, that’s not an egregious crime, but one does have to wonder what exactly the point of all this hubbub is all about. There’s very little that’s surprising or innovative on Morning Parade, so you can pretty much chalk things up to the desire to shift units. Naturally, the band denies this in the accompanying press release to this record: They claim that they were courted by EMI very early on in their career, but they didn’t want to be pressured into signing until the time was right. Well, they did eventually cave in and sign (and, quite frankly, who in their right mind wouldn’t?), but instead of using that time beating away the record company to develop their craft and hone a signature sound, it seems like this quintet simply raided their record collections to determine what on earth made certain bands become über-popular. That’s it. And the evidence is laid bare throughout Morning Parade.
In the end, this is neither a truly outrageously trainwreckably bad album, nor is it startlingly brilliant. It just ... exists. It seems to just float along in the ether, and works best when, yes, you just pump your fist in the air to it, which, in a sense, makes it kind of like filler or background noise. Nothing on Morning Parade will make you pause and reflect, and nothing will make you feel any sort of colourful emotion. The band just wants you, the listener, to have a good time. It all kind of makes you wonder: Did U2 set out to become one of the world’s biggest rock bands from the get-go, or was it something that happened on account of a happy accident and a by-product of shaping their sound into something that felt remarkably their own? My answer veers a little towards the latter part of that equation, as it did take U2 a number of albums before they were playing arenas and large outdoor venues. Thus, while the five members of Morning Parade have the ambition to be big stars, and certainly have the sound to bolster that desire, they might have ultimately shot themselves in the foot by merely cloning that which has come successfully before them.
Even at their most generic, stadium bands tend to have an identity. Morning Parade doesn’t: In fact, they feel virtually anonymous. Listen to this album, and you’ll walk away with little knowledge of these chaps other than they’re a bunch of average joes who desperately want to be famous. That’s where Morning Parade have probably gotten things a little bit backwards, and what they’ve delivered is thus only a nice diversion that sounds remarkably familiar. All you can really say about this record is that it’s OK, especially more so if you just, you know, pretend you’re listening to this in the back rows at a football field. In other words, the only utility of Morning Parade is simply to play this record loud and not care too much about it. Maybe that’s the only way to really find anything admirable here.