In the past couple of years mainstream radio has shown that it’s willing to once again to embrace pop/rock bands, singer/songwriters and other artists who have spent several years banished to the fringes from the way of club-ready anthems. As unlikely as it would have been only a short while back, we’ve now got the likes of Gotye and Fun. being responsible for some of the very biggest songs of the year. A song like “Pumped Up Kicks” can get actual attention beyond a small circle of indie fans and the overwhelming international popularity of the banjo-twiddling Mumford and Sons and the out-of-nowhere resurrection of Train have to be one of the most bizarre twists in mainstream success in the past decade. Playing a guitar or being a part of a band is trendy again.
Canadian quintet Walk Off the Earth fit this trend incredibly well, so well in fact that their major label debut R.E.V.O. is either a most cynical example of cashing on a trend (whether by the band or the label) or a most amazingly coincidental example of an act surfacing right when what they’re doing happens to be popular. The 11 tracks on R.E.V.O. almost come across like a re-recorded compilation of the biggest pop/rock songs of the past few years in sound, even if not in melody. Going through the songs becomes a game of spotting other artists: “Red Hands” sounds like another Fun. single, shades of Mumford and Train appear too regularly to list, “Summer Vibe” feels like a lost Bruno Mars song, et al. The comparisons aren’t helped by Walk off the Earth’s decision to directly face them by including a rather pedestrian cover of “Somebody that I Used to Know” on their debut, which not only demonstrates how important Gotye’s vocal delivery is to the song’s power in its quietly unravelling fury, but which sets Walk Off the Earth directly against their musical peers in a fashion that does them no favours.
Which is where we stumble on R.E.V.O.‘s biggest issue: it’s not strong or convincing enough to stand out from everyone who they resemble. Where all the artists mentioned before have hit it big while sounding like they’re simply doing what they love and getting lucky with it, Walk Off the Earth in comparison come off sounding like radio fodder designed to appeal to the fans of said artists. When the band are doing their best “come on everyone!”—rallying in “Gang of Rhythm”, it comes off as awkward and ever so slightly desperate rather than a genuinely inspired call for communal celebration. The band may intend well, but the happiness and sunshine radiating from the songs never resonates or feels genuinely joyful: it feels all too squeaky-clean and artificial.
It’d be unfair to call R.E.V.O. genuinely bad—only “Sometimes” with its unbelievably dreadful attempt at rapping really gets the irritation levels rising, whereas most of the album’s songs simply go in from one ear and out the other in a matter of seconds. They’re the kind of songs you’d hear in the background of establishing shots in a mediocre teen flick set during a summer vacation, chosen in lieu of anything that would actually cost to license. Perhaps in another timeline Walk Off the Earth could have had some impact but right now we are being flooded by artists who do exactly what they are doing, only far better and more convincingly. Set against them Walk Off the Earth sound too derivative for their own good and the few spots of light here and there (“Speeches” which carries a surprisingly good horn section and “Summer Vibe” which, while as generic a summer reggae song as you could imagine, is the one moment where the band sound relaxed) aren’t enough to save the album from mediocrity.