Australia’s You Am I have been at the music game for about a decade, but it seems like much longer. That impression is hardly due to the band overstaying its welcome; on the contrary, You Am I offer a welcome addition to the CD collection with each and every release. Their assumed longevity is mainly due to the group’s firm grasp on the British Invasion’s guitar pop legacy. Albums such as 1997’s Hourly, Daily could often make you swear you were hearing the Kinks under a different name, and whatever the group’s leanings from one album to another, singer/guitarist Tim Rogers’s smart sense of pop has maintained a consistent core of really strong, unassuming rock.
Deliverance is no different, despite its often surprising nods to Black Crowes-style rock (really, only in flashes) and alt-country sounds. At the album’s heart lies an allegiance to straightforward, guitar-oriented pop and rock with the occasional ballad thrown in for good measure. Deliverance marks their second record as a four-piece, but You Am I don’t get carried away with the guitars. Sure, “Who Put the Devil in You” steamrolls out of the speakers like nobody’s business, but the group is remarkably restrained, making those guitars weave around each other, with the concentration on interplay instead of pure brute power.
Will Deliverance be You Am I’s, well, deliverance to mainstream acceptance in America? Probably not. For all the band’s phenomenal success back home, and for all their influence on bands from the Vines to Silverchair, You Am I trade in smart rock, and that’s never exactly been king of the mountain. After a decade, though, You Am I are surely at peace with the fact that they’re darn good at what they do. If not, they do a good job of hiding it. Deliverance carries itself with remarkable self-assurance, from the clattery chords of opening track “Words for Sadness” to the gentle cello washes of the closing “When You Know What You Want”. In between, there’s the Byrdsy guitar and Squeeze-like bounce of “Ribbons and Bows”, the twang-a-plenty guitar of the title track, and the Springsteen-influenced hyperverbal approach of “Nuthin’s Ever Gonna Be the Same”. “City Lights” is a delicate mix of acoustic guitar and cello, with a catchy vocal melody by Rogers (for this writer’s money, though, You Am I’s ballads don’t have the distinctive quality they used to; these days the overall sound is good, but there’s little to match an exposed vein like “Please Don’t Ask Me to Smile”).
A slightly rootsy feel dominates Deliverance, but You Am I really only use it for flavoring (despite several references to Little Feat in the lyrics and cover art, You Am I certainly don’t pull off anything resembling “Fat Man in a Bathtub”). By and large, this is the same You Am I that fans have been following for a decade. True, there aren’t any significant surprises to be found in the disc’s 12 tracks, but there’s something to be said for You Am I’s steadiness. How many other bands can you count on to deliver the goods time and time again? You Am I haven’t made a bad album yet, but since Hourly, Daily, they really seem to have hit their stride. The classic rock vibes of Deliverance might be off-putting to some, but this disc is extremely comfortable in what it sets out to do. It offers up 12 strong songs that kneel at the altar of guitar hooks and good production, and all without dumbing down. You Am I might never sell a million copies in America, but when have platinum sales around these parts ever been proof of anything?
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// Notes from the Road
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