The Breakers are like a speculative cover band. Here for a Laugh posing the question; what might have happened if Rod Stewart had stuck to his Faces-era rocking instead of becoming a disco schmooze and wannabe crooner? Beyond that initial query, the album could be seen as a rock ‘n’ roll thesis. It is a highly competent copping of style with enough panache to make it, often, enjoyable. The Breakers sound highly versed in the history of pub-rock in the vein of the Faces, Brinsley-Schwarz, Mott the Hoople, and a lot of the Flamin’ Groovies.
Of course this is an interesting and thoroughly (groan) post-modern approach to throw-back rock. Pub rock was, in its first run in the 1970s, already a backward gazing phenomenon. The experience, such as we hear it in the Breakers, is distanced and spooky. While there are stray references to punk rock and its Cure-d aftermath, the Breakers mostly sound as if they recorded this in 1972. But while its style is firmly rooted, its summation of the sound is the po-mo vibe. Everything’s a little too polished.
It’s funny then that the best moments of Here for a Laugh are the most shameless. A song like “Tried so Hard” sounds like the lost b-side to “Reason to Believe”, with Toke Nisted’s vocal apparently possessed by the ghost of Rod Stewart past. The titular track is another standout with a jaunty acoustic strum and even more bouncy chorus that might be convincing enough to actually ignore lines like “I’ve got you and you’ve got me, like one and one and one is three”. These songs master the pub-rock technique of accenting acoustic chords with tasteful electric riffs. The sound is muscular but with enough depth to truly highlight the pop savvy of the melodies.
When this album does not work, the retro-groove seems too much of a reach. There are moments when the band sounds like the Strokes’ 45-rpm take on Television. The Breakers do not wear the inclination to prove their understanding of garage rock revival well. Occasionally it all just sounds like a copy of a copy of a copy… The punk-ier numbers sound thin and forced. The tired indictment “Rich Kids” plays unintentionally as ironic, as when Steely Dan did it with “Showbiz Kids”. Perhaps more so around the band’s name, a joke probably lost on the Copenhagen natives. However, Steely Dan was a band predicated on knowing sarcasm and tongues firmly in cheek whereas Here for a Laugh takes itself dead seriously.
While the lyrical content is rock mythos and cliché across the board, it tends to fall flat when the music is not fully fleshed out. “Get Lost Get High Get Sick” sounds like a Tenacious D tune that’s not in on the joke. It struggles a little too hard to identify with “rock ‘n’ roll and basement parties”. When they warn a vague “you” that “It’s a Jungle Out There” one can’t help but hear a lame swipe at G N’ R. “Cold Cold Winter” is an altogether uninspired ballad complete with a requisite hokey mandolin. Toke is once again invoking his “favorite tune” but this time we wonder how many there are and why they have such different appeal. Rock pastiche is a very tricky game, and while a band like this needs to be highly self aware and referential, this can be the very curse which pushes them into inconsequence. After all, the Faces and the Flamin’ Groovies made some good music, and why not just give that another spin?
It is not a bad thing that the Breakers do. It is of questionable authenticity and sparse originality. And yet for many that does not matter. I do not say this to be a snob. There are some very well-crafted songs on Here for a Laugh; they do just what you want them to and nothing more. When the verse expands and contracts through its well-defined space, there is an even more comforting chorus lined right up. Everything has the sound of something you’ve heard a lot of but can’t quite peg. It is immediately recognizable as rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s just in this case there isn’t much going on beneath all the familiar sounds and so that immediacy starts to sound a little mocking.
// Notes from the Road
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