Bob Dylan once remarked that “the world don’t need any more songs.” When asked to explain what he meant, Dylan merely replied that world has “got way too many,” and added that “if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer.” This sounds like an odd remark, particularly coming from the man who created what is arguably the greatest musical legacy of the 20th century. Then again, the statement makes some sense in a typically-cryptic-Dylan-type way. After all, hasn’t everything been done before? Isn’t every new idea simply a reconfiguration of preceding ideas? Dylan himself was aping Woody Guthrie—right down to the grey flannel shirt, defiant sneer, and nasal drawl. In the end, is to be “original” merely to present old ideas in a particularly unique manner?
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is the case, especially when you look at the current state of popular music. For those of us who grew up in the eighties, this all looks familiar: dark suits, pretty hairdos, synthesizers, quavering falsettos, melodrama All of a sudden, the music scene sounds like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie; everybody’s biggest influence is from the Atari age, whether it’s U2, the Cure, New Order, the Smiths, or the Talking Heads. Now Showroom, a band from Toronto, are doing their best eighties impersonation. And though they aren’t doing anything groundbreaking here, the band’s first proper album,The World Is Too Much With Us, is an impressive debut. Showroom may wear their influences on their sleeve, but somehow their music sounds fresh and perhaps—dare the word be uttered—original.
Two things about Showroom that make them stand out from the new wave revival crowd: lead singer Ben Hutchinson’s voice is an uncanny amalgamation of numerous other voices and guitarist Rory Lindsay knows his Johnny Marr licks. One moment Hutchinson sounds like Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s Kevin Rowland doing that charming English-countryside-drawl thing, the next like Morrissey actually singing in key, the next like Jeff Buckley hitting one of those unearthly high notes. Then there’s Lindsay, who can effortlessly shift from a shimmering, jangly lead to a foot-stomping rhythm. In essence, he’s two guitarists in one, able to seamlessly graft a melody to a chord progression without the need for a rhythm player or extensive overdubs. All this is to say these boys have skills.
“How then,” you might be wondering, “can Showroom sound original when their influences are so obvious?” Well, while they might have impeccable influences, Showroom aren’t trying to copy anyone. Their music is more like a mosaic—made up of many familiar pieces that form something entirely new. Take “Gentlemen of Leisure,” for example, which starts with a bouncy rockabilly guitar riff before tumbling into a frenetic romp of scattershot guitar and drums. Over all the music, Hutchinson delivers the gospel as only a true man of style can: “Gentlemen shouldn’t ever strain / He who seats doth himself arraign.” Later, he adds, “While the idle sit and waste / And the waspy buzz in haste / So the best of men reflect / And by God, they don’t fret.” Finally, a lead singer whose wit is sharper than the crease in his trousers!
And therein lays Showroom’s forte—melding catchy riffs, bouncy drumbeats, and impeccable lyric writing. Clearly, the four members of the band grew up listening to classic pop, for only music fanatics could make an album with such perfect hooks on their first LP. “The Dying Art,” for instance, is an infectious little pop song that somehow manages to be both jaunty and philosophically weighty. “Grim will reap what you have sown,” Hutchinson warns, “Just as you peak you will be mown.” In the background, drummer Tyler Dokis plays a dapper shuffle while Lindsay alternates between furious palm muted chords and chiming notes. Likewise, “Brooding On a Friday Night” is both catchy and depressing, a tribute to those boring Friday nights when loneliness breeds frustration, then gives way to guilty release. “Sing the song of liberation,” Hutchinson encourages, “Sing the song of masturbation.”
The World Is Too Much With Us is full of such delightful pop gems, and Showroom prove they have the skills to forge a long career. There’s not a bad track on this album, which is a rare accomplishment for a band still in their relative infancy. Moreover, the guys in Showroom are wise enough to know it’s all been done before. In “Brooding On a Friday Night,” they concede as much: “Damn it all. Everything’s been done / Nothing new underneath the sun.” So, in the end, perhaps Dylan is right; the world doesn’t need any new songs. But when they’re as full of charm and punch as Showroom’s music, it sure makes life a lot more enjoyable.