So much promise, just so much. There’s a big whoosh of a beginning, swooping down like a hawk lunging for its next meal, sharp-eyed and fierce. The entire first track, instrumental: speedy hunt forged by those ballsy, strident guitars that open wide, the way of proper British rock, an anthem that could rally a hoard of let-down soccer hooligans. A great beginning. So much promise, just so much.
Coin-Op, could they keep this fire burning throughout Friendly Fire, would be kings—beloved kings at that. But Nick Hills has to open his god-forsaken mouth, and when he does, that big bird of prey is discovered to be simply a squawking crow. The stadium shrinks, and it in are not rabble-rousing fans, but instead maybe soccer moms, who wouldn’t know rock it if it were lobbed at their collective hairdos, cheering on a game for tots. What a shame.
It’s all over by the second number, “Democracies”. A charging keyboard line is met by a surge of drums, guitar and bass—perhaps not clean, but at least thrilling for its vigor. Then, lo and behold, the singing. “I am a tyrannical leader,” Hills sings, his voice all animal torture and crazed without purpose. Looking past the sheer annoyance of his voice and simply concentrating on what he’s saying is no hope either. “This is our year zero / I’m gonna eat your heroes,” Hills continues, then his bandmates hoot like monkeys trapped in a laboratory cage. Perhaps sounding completely feral is what they’re going for, but I personally prefer my music a bit more evolved.
I’d like to say it gets better over the course of the record, but frankly it just doesn’t. The vim and vigor which made the beginning interlude arresting devolves later into energized but lackluster guitar slop, power chords and pointless riffs running amok everywhere. Coin-Op have but one musical mode, and that’s high-speed, messy, and loud-loud-loud. When they attempt to play around with this, they again land in the muck: “Southpaw”, a song with two distinct “movements”, ends up sounding confused rather than complicated. Guitar lines run zigzag for no good reason. The drums are a dissonant wash of noise. There are curious sounds—a buzz here, a zip-de-do there—that are simply puzzling.
All over this album is more of the same. “Flex”, coming third, is a stylistic departure into keyboard-dominant space-wave, but abandons its hook midway so that Hills, also the band’s keyboardist, can seemingly experiment with what the function of certain knobs he’d not used before. “The Curve” has a Gay Dad-esque glam about it, with Hills at times affecting a convincing Cliff Jones, but the song overall sports none of Jones & Co.‘s glittery intelligence or cheeky attitude. The song also lasts for just under two minutes, but comes off not so much a bang of punk energy as it does the limit of Coin-Op’s creative chops.
Plenty of successful and enjoyable bands are not musical virtuosos. There are more than a handful of lead singers whose vocal stylings would numb formally trained ears. Originality and creativity are always relative and contextual. But mediocrity through and through results in a boring product, plain and simple. Friendly Fire, for all its bombast, is boring. And I’m starting to think that any promise I hear on this record was dumb luck, or an accident.