Whatever you do with this album, be sure not to look at the liner notes and photos before listening. Simply viewing these photos of four guys in black leather jackets, shaggy hair and jeans will instantly bring images of the Strokes to your head and endless comparisons to them. Having said that, though, the debut album from this band and its previous single has resulted in opening slots for the White Stripes and, you guessed it, the Strokes! Fawned over by most of the British music circle, including the NME, this Sheffield unit seem to have a lot of the chops that aforementioned groups have, but the production level isn’t as primal or gutter-like as one might adore.
Starting the album off is “Left & Right”, a rollicking track that is a bit too tight sounding for its own good, especially during the chorus. Instead of opening things up a bit during the bridge with some guitar solos, the rhythm section tends to stifle any large solo or loose jam sessions. It’s quite similar in its tone to current favorites like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but not as melodic. The guitar player, known as Hugh, tends to open it up slightly during the song’s concluding minute and the payoff is great. It sounds a bit like early Oasis in places, with that huge British rock sound veering off the deep end. Moving seamlessly into the second track, “Upside Down”, has much more in common with the Strokes in its tone, with lead singer Hogg leading the way. Unfortunately the big problem here is a rather bland and generally crappy chorus, which diminishes the verses and build up.
The group have that certain intangible that is needed for bigger and better things to come, especially on the lovable “Don’t Get Lost”, a cross between Robert Smith and Julian Casablancas crooning to an alt. rock guitar riff. “I lost my job / You lost my memory / You couldn’t see straight / You couldn’t see yourself”, Hogg sings over some nice guitar work by Hugh. “Urgh!!!” is the sort of the song that is a definite hit or tragic miss, with this tune falling into the latter from the onset. Never getting out of this Lou Reed-like rut, Hoggboy give a great performance here, but the song’s momentum falls apart with a toned down bridge section. The songs are all over the place in terms of structure and arrangement, especially the brawn opening to “Call Me Suck”, an instrumental which has a certain Rage Against the Machine or Primal Scream hook to it.
“Gonna Take Me a While” is a blending of the old British rock rhythms of bands like the Yardbyrds and the Animals, but with the current dose of cool on top of it. Here, the group resembles fuzzed-out ‘60s bands like the MC5 and the neo-MC5 known today as the Sights. The airtight performance oozing from the song works for some strange reason, with drummer Richy given a brief spotlight. “Death of a Friend” sounds like a possible out take from the Strokes, especially when Hogg begins wailing during the chorus. The track is very primal and sounds better for it. The band sound “live” here, not glossed over with a slick production and trickery. The keyboards are questionable, but don’t negate the overall effect. “So Young” continues the manic frenzy with a fresh and tight framework, everyone hitting it at all cylinders. “Cause it’s you, you, you” Hogg utters in a moment of lo-fi perfection. The song soars as it goes along, climaxing in just over two minutes. Christ, give me a cigarette!
The homestretch keeps the feel going, but diminishing somewhat on “Shouldn’t Let the Side Down”, a basic back beat that propels the number along. The guitars don’t do the tune enough justice though, opting for some sloppy solos and feedback. Things brighten up a bit later, atoning for earlier miscues. “1:10” is perhaps a cryptic reference at this being the tenth track of the first album, or possibly the length. But whatever it is, it’s a bit of a disappointment from start to finish. And it caps off at 1:11 to be exact (or anal). The “false” conclusion of the album on “Mile High Club” is another dose of filler material. Trying to sound like the brooding and indifferent BRMC, the song doesn’t really do much for anyone here. Perhaps it might work better in the middle of the record, who knows. What you should know is that the British hype machine will be over this group for most of 2003. And for this time anyway, they’ve tapped into something enjoyable and worthwhile.
// Notes from the Road
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