Real rock ‘n’ roll disappeared from America sometime shortly after the release of Appetite for Destruction in 1987, and heavily resurfaced in Scandinavia in the mid-1990s. At the same time home to such Nordic black metal gods and Mayhem and Mortiis, Sweden and Norway have also fostered the Hellacopters, Entombed, Gluecifer, and a cabal of others, similarly minded in the glory of the decade from approximately ‘75 to ‘85, and sharing a transcontinental love for the power chords of AC/DC, the anti-image of Replacements punk, the grandeur of Kiss and the bad-assness of the Nuge’s hick-rock.
The Backyard Babies are one of Sweden’s more popular exports, featuring an “I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel” attitude, and one of the dudes from the Hellacopters on guitar. The Babies seem to prefer straight-up, balls-out rock over the ‘Copters Kiss obsession, and this works both for and against them. The rock is decent and slickly produced, but where the music succeeds, the singer fails. Perhaps it’s his lame rock star, heroin-chic, MTV VJ/has-been Jesse Camp-style fashion sense or his faux bad-ass lyrics (there’s a song that uses the lyrics “born to lose” which is a definite no-no unless you’re as established a band as Social Distortion) and posturing (throughout the CD booklet, at least), but it actually hampered my listening experience knowing that a sub-par vocalist is bringing down an otherwise quality band. Only on tracks like “Look At You,” the best song Fat Wreck Chords never released, or “suburban Hero,” does the sheer cheesiness of the vocals work.
To their credit, the Backyard Babies are the type of band that would be featured in an extended concert scene (playing behind a chain-link fence, of course) in a film in which Eddie Murphy walks into a seedy bar looking for those key clues to solve the murder mystery. The bassist might have one line of dialogue before the place erupts into a brawl, during which someone throws a bottle of cheap beer at the singer, and knocks him unconscious.
Boasts of drug abuse, kicking ass and breaking hearts abound on Total 13, a title no doubt picked not only to reference the number of tracks on the album, but to connote cool rock ‘n’ roll images as well.
// Notes from the Road
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