And I had such high hopes for Sub Pop. Last year was banner year for the label by any standard. In addition to excellent albums from The Red House Painters and Mark Lanegan, they released one of the most overlooked pop-rock gems in The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World. After gorging us with greasy grunge leftovers, the label appeared to have had a change of heart, taking the sort of smart gambles that would normally be reserved for the indie elite like Matador and Merge. Sub Pop looked to be on the verge of shedding the “Nirvana’s record label” tag that had dogged them throughout the ‘90s.
But apparently, Sub Pop isn’t entirely ready to give up the ghost, as their most recent offering proves. The Catheters’ Static Delusions and Stone-Still Days is a throwback in the most mediocre of ways. Lots of thrash and room-rumbling bass but nothing to suggest its makers have the songwriting skills of the groups to whom they are indebted. Like so many of the bands that have come and gone on the Sub Pop roster, The Catheters specialize in fuzzy rock ‘n’ roll, caught somewhere between the sloppy aggression of Mudhoney and the unbridled mayhem of The Murder City Devils. More than anything, they sound young—so young that Static Delusions at times sounds more like the work of a tribute band than one with original material.
Still, it’s hard to deny The Catheters when they put so much damn energy and chutzpah into these songs. Even if you find it hard to believe that anyone could be so enthusiastic about such boneheaded repetition, there’s never a second that makes you call their conviction into question. Not a trace of irony to be found over the disc’s slight 35 minutes. And as is often the case, these boys get by on sheer enthusiasm alone. A song like “Nothing” is just as faceless as its title implies, but thanks to their relentless determination, The Catheters manage to turn something anonymous into a near anthem.
Sadly, that’s about it as close as they get to a fully fleshed-out song. Some tracks, like “Been There Before” and “Disguise Myself”, assault the senses so thoroughly that they almost make you forget about the weak hooks. But as I’m sure The Catheters figured out themselves, it’s hard to slip by without hooks for very long. Even The Stooges, who are the only band I can think of that might have been able to pull off such a stunt for the duration of an album, never dared to attempt it. I suppose the fact that The Catheters are able to elevate a few scattered portions of the otherwise unremarkable material speaks volumes about their will to rock. They damn well mean every last peal of feedback.
But hard work and confidence can only get you so far; somewhere down the line, the talent has to kick in and, ultimately, The Catheters have nothing to fall back on when their shtick gets tiresome. What we’re left with is a couple of standout tracks, distinguished by their hormonal overdrive, and the rest a confusing miasma of bar chords. The band does get extra credit for the mutilated CD booklet, which comes with a disclaimer that assures the consumer that the “shoddy workmanship” is in fact intended. The cut and “damaged” artwork and blurry liner notes are fitting accoutrements to the music and certainly do reveal the deliberateness of their amateurish approach. But intending to sound this unfocused hardly lets The Catheters off the hook. Consider Static Delusions proof that some goals aren’t worth setting in the first place.