Elkland comfort me with the realization that A&R cretins remain the most consistently clueless cogs in the commercial apparatus of music distribution. You can see this most clearly in the concentric dissipation of talent that occurs when surprise hitmakers spawn a gluttonous clamoring of facsimiles under the assumption that it’s not so much originality and talent that consumers respond to as some sort of formula that can be repeated with assembly line ease. But it’s not Franz Ferdinand’s fault that Elkland exist, though surely the instinct to blame someone is the prevailing response I have to this album.
The most pernicious aspect of nostalgia-driven music trends is their mindless embrace of generality. Sure, the “‘80s” gave us The Talking Heads, The English Beat, and Berlin. But they also gave us Ratt and Peter Cetera, precisely why the decade deserves no blanket resurrection. Singer, Jon Pierce, emotes entirely too much, in warbling high notes that bring to mind Thom Yorke fronting Tears for Fears. It’s longwinded and histrionic, a fading falsetto that he uses like a bad R&B singer, pouring acrobatic articulation on tracks that he might be wiser to recede into. On “Everybody’s Leaving” he cracks into dog whistle plateaus, catches his own breath in audible clots, and adds syllables with abusive lounge singer abandon. It’s a shame, really, because it’s easy to imagine that he might have a serviceably pretty voice if he wasn’t always doing flubbed wheelies with it.
I certainly wouldn’t want to imply that the onus of this album hangs entirely on Pierce’s Broadway poisoning in the vein of “Life in A Northern Town”. Golden abounds with ghastly hybrids and crummy juxtaposition. Without the murky guitar riff, and undertow of tinny Gary Numan synth, “Abandon” would be pure 98 Degrees, pocked as it is with lines like “I died that day / when you walked away” delivered with the kind of grandiose seriousness you expect from people singing on the edge of cliffs.
Golden overflows in drama projected with windblown hugeness on top of clichés that may as well be cribbed from heavy metal ballads. Just insert some K-Mart Kraftwerk where the guitar solo might have been and you’ve got a slightly different strain of the same sort of calculated cheese. In fact, the sentiments so cheaply expressed throughout this record amount to nothing so much as a boy band given a crash course in Erasure and The Psychedelic Furs. “I don’t want to be alive without you” Pierce cries with clutched heart on “Without You” and you have to wonder aloud if the fact that you have pubic hair puts you squarely outside of Golden‘s market target.
A few flashes of tolerability show how the album could have been more expert in its shoddy shoplifting. “I Need You Tonight” cribs enough of The Cars to give the song a sense of thrilling momentum by erring on the side of rock. Pierce even lets go of his cloying penchant for molesting his own voice when he heavy pets every single syllable in audition overkill. He delivers this track in a tight clip, the kind of lurching Ocasek imitation that could have salvaged the record’s preference for bloated balladry.
Similarly, “Apart” nearly hits a Hot Hot Heat level of dancefloor energy, but the musical backdrops simply have no depth: it’s all John Tesh synthscapes and aerosolized guitar. Where A-game electroclash acts manage to make this level of low-rent studio chintz sound gutter grope sexy, Elkland make it sound like the backing tracks for amusement park pavilion concerts.
If Elkland have any saavy at all, they’ll return to the studio to re-tool, and comb the chicken bone predictions of tastemakers to find a newly budding style. Then they can make a follow-up that’s actually ahead of the regurgitated curve instead of arriving far too late with much too little.