In every interview I’ve read, the Blam frontman Jerry Adler cites the Beatles as his primary influence and inspiration. Although I don’t doubt Adler’s sincerity, I’m tempted to think that his nod to the fab four is also intended to separate the Blam from the recent onslaught of upstart New York City bands like French Kicks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and of course, the Strokes—bands that don’t exactly qualify as being Beatlesque.
Oddly enough, for a band that’s hoping to separate itself from the pack, the Blam open its self-titled debut with a track that would be at home on the Strokes’ record. “You’re Making My Head Spin” features a reasonably catchy melody sung by a distorted lead vocal over a rock-steady rhythm section and straight-ahead guitars. It’s a misleading lead track, though, as the Blam don’t revisit this territory anywhere else on the album, choosing instead to plunder sounds from other, more established bands.
The rest of the record truly becomes a game of spot the influences, and although the Beatles win out, Jerry Adler has clearly internalized the work of a few other artists. “Let’s Go Away” recalls Frank Black’s more recent solo material, albeit without the former Pixies singer’s essential weirdness. “Little Pricks” answers the unpleasant question, what would Radiohead sound like fronted by Roger Waters? Stranger still is “Orchard 38”, which is an unfortunate collision between Everclear’s pleading rock and the pop psychedelia of “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces.
Sadly, the Blam generally don’t fare much better when paying tribute to the Beatles. Attempts to capture the energy of McCartney and Lennon’s early tunes result in songs like “Some Marry for Love” and “I Don’t Care About Nobody Else”—songs that don’t evoke anything so much as Herman’s Hermits, or other second-tier British invasion bands. The “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” retread “Sitting in the Sun” comes closer, in that it sounds like an outtake from the Rutles, Neil Innes’s Beatles parody band. Unfortunately, knowing that the Blam is serious makes listening off-putting, not amusing.
“8546”, apparently about a bus line, is another unsettling song. Imagine a Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon sharing writing credits with Ringo Starr. Sunny verses with lyrics like “I’m most happy when I wake up / Halfway in and out of sleep” butt up against a chorus of “Iso, iso, isolation”; it’s like a manic depressive octopus’ garden. Solo Lennon is also evoked on “Easy to Be Good”, but instead of lyrics courtesy the happy Beatle, they seem to be taken from a motivational speaker. “Don’t throw your life away”, Adler advises, “Don’t mind if I get knocked down / It don’t hurt as much as giving in”. With a tune as innocuous as the lyrics, unlikely it is that the song will talk any potential jumpers off that ledge.
There’s one moment where the Blam realize their intentions and craft a pristinely catchy song. “Various Disgraces” is great pop putdown, with keyboard hooks and a big chorus. It achieves the wonderfully snotty attitude that Alder’s lyrics strive for on much of the record: “A lot of sound comes out of that mouth . . . Oh you wear me out / And there is nothing I can do / Nothing at all”. Like the Foo Fighter’s “Big Me”, which this song resembles, “Various Disgraces” is a genuine singalong tune that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It would have made a great summer single. As it is, it’s frozen in the midst of this turgid winter release.
// Notes from the Road
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