Over the past couple of years glam-rock has been the prevailing style of choice among young, upstart club bands, particularly in L.A. So many of these acts use glam as the impetus for their sound, but only a precious few are able to pull it off in a convincing way. The L.A. power-pop outfit Tsar is a notable exception. They not only capture the essence of the sound, but the strength of their compositional skills pushes them far beyond all of the other throwbacks bands, therefore setting the standard for this modern resurgence of the genre. On the other end of the spectrum you have the L.A. power-trio, Gwenmars.
With Alabama native Mike Thrasher (guitar/vocals), Matt Westfield (bass) and John Boutin (drums), Gwenmars released their 1995 debut Magnosheen, a record critically praised for its straight-forward, grungy, psychedelic, post-punk attack. When Hollywood Records went belly-up, the band signed with SeeThru Broadcasting and with their debut for that label, Driving a Million, it seems that Gwenmars have taken a significant step in the wrong direction.
Apart from the psychedelic nuances, the only other key component of their music that they cared enough to bring with them on Driving a Million is their sonically dense sound—thick, bombastic, fuzzed-out guitars, booming bass and thunderous, pounding drums. The band’s sound is indeed big, but that’s hardly enough to carry this very dismal offering. The band cites Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure as major influences on their style, but there is no sign of this here. Instead, the record sounds like a failed attempt of trying to mesh the signature Nirvana sound with that of the Smashing Pumpkins, while trying to utilize the psychedelia of Revolver. Also, Thrasher’s vocals reek with androgyny—a kind of poor man’s Billy Corgan. Whenever the mood strikes him, Thrasher turns the British accent on and off as if it were a light switch (and the guy is from Alabama for god sakes).
Although Driving a Million fails as a thoroughly consistent effort, it’s not a complete flatliner. “She Hung the Moon” is a tolerable acoustic ballad that is bolstered musically by lush string orchestration and shimmering synth effects. “Strawberry Ice” could certainly qualify as a Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust throwaway with its fuzzy guitar drones and Thrasher’s Bowie-ish vocals, but a quite impressive tune nonetheless. The rest of the album is an exercise in experimentation that went totally awry.
Sometimes it helps to dance with the one who brought you. Gwenmars decided to switch partners in mid-stream, and did so at the expense of the reputation that Magnosheen had built. Perhaps the band should pick up a copy of Tsar’s self-titled debut to understand how glam-rock is done—successfully.