[6 July 2009]
Amazing Baby, a quintet of hygienically-challenged 20-something dudes from Brooklyn, look like they were plucked from the pages of a haute indie rock band textbook. Fashionably scraggly haircuts? Check. Hobo-chic wardrobe? check. Death-warmed-over pallor? Check. Proclivity for dead-eyed, expressionless gazes when posing for the camera? Check.
If it seems unfair to start a review of the band’s full-length debut, Rewild, with a critique of their fashion sense, keep in mind that Amazing Baby’s stock in trade is epic, T-Rex-style psychedelic glam rock – a genre where fashion is far more than a mere side note. The band knows this – they’ve plastered a moody portrait of themselves across the landing page of their web site, in which the five of them are trying hard to appear sexily, cooly detached, but mostly just look like a New York Police line-up. The usual suspects, indeed.
The banality of Amazing Baby’s image doesn’t augur well for their music, and your reviewer admits to being prepared to dismiss them sound-unheard. But Rewild, a follow-up to the band’s 2008 Infinite Fucking Cross EP, is replete with enough glittery pop grandeur to elicit a measure of forgiveness from even the most hardened youth culture cynic.
Rewild isn’t an amazing recording (as suggested in the band’s press release, which opens with this howler: “It’s hard to describe Brooklyn’s Amazing Baby without using the world ‘amazing,’ because ultimately, that’s what they are.”), but it is an ambitious one, if supernaturally shallow. Amazing Baby is most clearly indebted to the swaggering, fantastical sleaze of the aforementioned T-Rex, as well as David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and even Pulp, but it also ventures into various other generic territories, and the results are decidedly mixed.
When remaining in its comfort zone of bombastic hook-heavy guitar rock, Amazing Baby is nearly worthy of the first first half of its name, particularly on “Headdress”, a monster of a rock ballad in which lead singer Will Roan talk-sings the verses like Prince in “Purple Rain,” then switches to a Greg Dulli come-hither sigh during the chorus. Meanwhile, the verses are punctuated by the kind of Steve Vai-like arpeggio guitar phrases that V-shaped guitars are made for. All in all, “Headdress” is a triumph, and by far the best song on the album.
Elsewhere, the band falters as it tries to cram too many influences into one song, most notably on the disastrous “Invisible Palace”, which the band incomprehensibly placed up front, at track two. A lumbering, pretentious, and seemingly interminable song, “Invisible Palace” sounds like a THC-enhanced tribute to Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath – and if that sounds good to you, well, you’re probably going to like Amazing Baby more than most people. “The Narwahl” takes its cues from Led Zeppelin, with a kindler, gentler version of Robert Plant’s famous screaming bit in the “The Immigrant Song”. Unfortunately, Roan, who is among that increasingly rare breed of lead singers who doesn’t play an instrument, is no Robert Plant – not even close.
That’s the biggest problem with Amazing Baby: a lack of big-time charisma. Less image-centric bands can get by without it. But when you clearly aim to be a rock band of the old order – the kind where the singer never touches a guitar, where the music aims for arena-shaking bombast, and where every song is awash in shameless bravado – you need something special to pull it off. And except in fleeting moments on Rewild, Amazing Baby doesn’t have it, at least not yet.