[20 April 2005]
In 2004, Scandinavian garage (the Hives and Sahara Hotnights) and heavy metal (Dimmu Borgir) made serious inroads in the stateside music scene, but the genre that sonically falls between the two—hard rock—has barely registered with American fans. It’s not for lack of trying though, and one of Sweden’s best hard rock bands, Backyard Babies, has a chance to break through, thanks to opening touring slots in the past year with Velvet Revolver and Social Distortion. Sensing a chance to move some units and introduce newbie fans to the band’s stellar catalog, BYB’s American label, Liquor and Poker, offers up Tinnitus, a compilation record that culls four tracks from each of the band’s last three albums. The finished product is a tad disjointed, but as introductions to underappreciated bands go, it’s a fine place to start.
But first, a little history. The band, led by guitarist Ask Dregen, has been together on and off since 1987. They released their 1993 debut LP, Diesel and Power, took a brief hiatus while Dregen played with the also-unfairly-underrated-in-America Hellacopters, then reformed in 1997. The three albums represented on Tinnitus (1999’s Total 13, 2001’s Making Enemies is Good, and 2003’s Stockholm Syndrome) illustrate a band not willing to change its sound to garner popularity. After all, as the cliché goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What hard rock fan wouldn’t love the Babies’ gritty/glammy Guns ‘n’ Roses-style rock mixed with pop metal chops, a la Hanoi Rocks and the Wildhearts? It’s manna from the hard rock heavens!
The band follows the above recipe on all of Tinnitus’ dozen tracks (except for the bloozy, goofy shout-out “Friends”) yet subtle differences between the three albums can be found, a point made more obvious by the decision to shuffle the tracks, as opposed to present them chronologically. The Total 13 material—“UFO Romeo”, “Highlights”, “Made Me Madman” and “Look at You”—are rougher-edged sounding; by 2003’s Stockholm Syndrome, the songs teeter closer to Metallica-esque speed metal, that is to say, clean, hooky, melodic guitar lines, but still heavy, heavy, heavy and fast (check out “Minus Celcius” for proof).
Short of setting off fireworks and waving semaphore flags on a city street corner while blaring the likes of Backyard Babies, Hellacopters, and Turbonegro (to name just three worthy Scandinavian acts) out of a boombox, I don’t know what else I can do to tell American hard rock fans to check out these bands. Velvet Revolver may have the MTV airplay and the name recognition, but Tinnitus proves that Backyard Babies has the heart and chops to be a driving force on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.