Let’s face it, rock ‘n’ roll is in a precarious spot. While the past decade has offered many exceptional bands, there hasn’t been an “official”, canon-inducted movement (or is that Movement?) since—and I grimace while saying the word—grunge—breathed new life into an aging art form. This has left many bands searching for cultural cues, wondering what might be original or creative or relevant or even just plain catchy. Art is, by nature, a cannibalistic endeavor, but many of the great ideas have been eaten, regurgitated, re-eaten, and regurgitated once again just a few too many times. Rock is no exception. This forces the question, “How long can rock subsist on its own waste?” Stand’s newest album, Transmissions, will leave you asking the same question. It’s not a bad album. In fact, many of the parts are good. Darn good. Hell, damn good. The problem is, it’s all been done before, and done with more spark.
What you’ll first notice about Stand’s new album is that it’s muscular. Opener “On the Surface” begins with a glam riff that’s both menacing and lithe, progressing in graceful, bold zigzags, only to collapse into the background. While the guitars lead the charge, singer Neil Eurelle plays dense, frantic bass lines reminiscent of Colin Greenwood’s schizophrenic work on “Paranoid Andriod”. This all sounds very promising, until you realize that rather than being the result of A-list influences, this song is more a cut-and-paste collage of the past fifteen years of rock. Eurelle’s voice, while showing more than sufficient range, alternates between that annoying Eddie Vedder imitation everyone has been doing since 1993 and the I’m-still-pissed-because-I-didn’t-get-a-big-wheel-for-my-eighth-birthday faux angst of rap metal.
Indeed, the whole of Transmissions alternates between the inspired and the trite. “When Fate Becomes You” is one of the more touching songs on the album, mainly because it’s a ballad, but also because Eurelle finds his own voice—literally. Beginning with only a haunting, slowly-strummed acoustic guitar, the song features foreboding lyrics about a dying father’s last words: “Ladies, gentlemen please, / My father has some words before he leaves . . .” Eurelle’s voice is noticeably more tender in this song, and when he sings the chorus, it quakes and strains with fragility, lending the words a poignancy not apparent on the surface: “Be true to yourself, and even if your heart bleeds for love, / It will find it’s way to you.” By letting go of the vocal posturing, Eurelle saves the song from becoming a collection of clichés.
Other songs, however, suffer from similar posturing, though not always vocal. “Sleeping On Our Feet”, for example, features obligatory “anti-establishment” diatribes against Western materialism. The obsession with bigger and more is, undoubtedly, a disgusting societal illness, but all Stand can offer are the typical shame-on-you platitudes: “Do you really need that second home? Second car? DVD home cinema?” A rock song that rails against money and possessions? How many of these have been written? If that ridiculous Rock n’ Roll Jeopardy show were still on, this topic would make a perfect category. Eurelle even makes a reference to “the world outside . . . spinning”. Ah, the spinning world—you know, as in, “How can we be so obsessed with (fill in the blank with whatever you despise) when the world outside is spinning?” Geez. How many times has that line been recycled? In fact, “Sleeping On Our Feet” is so ineffective as a reprimand against materialism that it only succeeded in reminding me of how much I’d like a new Volkswagen. Damn, those are nice.
Such missteps make listening to Transmissions a frustrating experience, particularly because the members of Stand are solid musicians. Drummer Carl Dowling plays with both nuance and restraint and only assails the kit when in the interest of the song. Moreover, he knows exactly when and how to experiment. In “Passing Through”, for instance, he blends loops with live playing without undermining the feeling of the song. Moreover, guitarists Alan Doyle and David Walsh know how to use the guitar for ambiance and texture, not just bravado. Repeat listens reveal subtle touches that illustrate a mature craftsmanship many bands ignore or never even think to achieve. Despite such accomplishments, Transmissions sounds just a bit too . . . common. Everything offered here sounds like a facsimile of some earlier song, band, or era, and the complaint that “everything has been done before” readily comes to mind when listening to this album. Hopefully, Stand will quit paraphrasing their influences and let their own creative voice emerge. If not, they’ll make the world’s best cover band specializing in 90’s mainstream-alternative.