The second album is always the hardest to create, so it’s no doubt that the Coffin Lids found themselves in a difficult situation while recording ‘Round Midnight, the follow-up to their outstanding debut. It wouldn’t be right to claim that Rock N’ Roll was a perfect album, it was almost purposely the farthest thing from perfect, but it was a complete ideal, a raw blast of retro-minded garage punk that seemed to be recorded on a worn down, hand-held cassette recorder from the room across the hall and yet sounded all the better for it. If they had recorded anything that was in exactly the same vein as Rock N’ Roll, the Coffin Lids would have risked releasing something of a faded Xerox of their debut. However, if they decided to make any significant changes in their sound, they would distance themselves from what made them a unique and fearsome band. When examined with the idea that the Coffin Lids had painted themselves into a corner, ‘Round Midnight reveals itself to be the best path the band could have taken, a worthwhile album that finds the band sticking with its signature sound without being burdened by it.
The Coffin Lids travel on fairly well-trod ground, music-wise. Influenced heavily by ‘60s garage rock and the B-movie detritus that it was connected to, the Coffin Lids combine their retro-mood with the attitude and tempos of classic punk rock. The Coffin Lids however play with an abandon that separates themselves from their contemporaries. Songs like “Teenage Shakedown” and “Mad Party” contain a burst of the truly schizophrenic, reminiscent more of the lunatic Japanese garage rockers rather than the current crop of American/Anglo revivalists. The Coffin Lids seem to acknowledge this kinship in the album’s clear standout, “I’m Going to Have My Way (With the 18.104.22.168.‘s)”: a rollicking, lustful ode to Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Japanese girl group.
The main difference between ‘Round Midnight and its predecessor is the production. The production on the band’s debut was deliberately terrible, compressing the three instrumentalists into a single, unidentifiable blast of primal rock and roll, so its sequel would have better production simply by default. Still, the relatively clear sounds of ‘Round Midnight highlight the Coffin Lids’ musical skills and deft control of melody, aided by the band’s use of the farfisa organ and backing vocals. As a result, the album gets a poppier sheen, as the sing-a-long nature of the band’s simple songs is more readily apparent. Still, the Coffin Lids remain raw and untamed. “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”, on paper, sounds like the latest cookie-cutter Hives single, but the Lids play it as the greasy, nasty ode to alcoholic babes that it was meant to be.
Adding to the (slight) maturity, the Coffin Lids are shaking some of their goofier conceits. After their debut got them tagged as sort of sci-fi/horror rockers, the band concentrates more on partying, girls, and rock and roll on the follow-up. Yes, they still open with a song called “Frankenstein”, sarcastically attempt to start a teenage dance craze with “Creepy Crawl”, and end the album with Song Title of 2005 runner-up, “Tonight You’re Going to Die in My Garage”, but for the rest of the album, the band outgrows the novelty-act label. ‘Round Midnight, in turn, sounds like a more mature album, but it comes at a price: there’s nothing here as brilliantly simple as the brainless beauties “Coffin Lids Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “Beer and Rock and Roll”. Still, it would have been foolish to attempt to rekindle the Ramones-Zen Stupidity of the band’s first, and the band is better now following the spiritual legacy of long-lived party bands such as the Fleshtones and the Flamin’ Groovies.
‘Round Midnight is not as good as the Coffin Lids’ debut, but that’s to be expected. The Coffin Lids are on the path for a long career creating simple, but not simplistic, three-minute slabs of garage rock, and are lucky enough to be on a label, Bomp!, that fits their attitude perfectly. As long as there are bands like the Lids around, garage rock in its purest form will still be alive, no matter what the current trends are. And that’s a good thing.