[2 May 2012]
I’m not sure if the title Never Look Back is intended as irony, but it certainly works on that level. This album, the second from Austin’s Electric Touch, does nothing but look back. The songs here are created entirely from the book of big dumb rock clichés, and the band never betrays a hint of self-awareness about what they’re doing. There’s a chance that the band is so deadpan that they’re playing a very effective joke on the audience. More likely, though, this is what happens when a perfectly serviceable indie dance-rock band without a lot of history is picked up by a major label in the ‘10s.
The songs on Electric Touch’s first album back in ‘08 were fun and danceable and drew liberally from a variety of influences. On the other hand, Never Look Back, the band’s first effort for Island Records, sounds distinctly like The Killers circa Hot Fuss fronted by an ‘80s hair metal singer. These songs all have big synths, bigger guitars and the biggest sing along choruses you can imagine. It’s all topped off by drummer Louis Messina, Jr.‘s heavy reliance on his hi-hat cymbal and clear knowledge of classic disco and big beat.
Producer Howard Benson, whose credits read like a who’s-who of big dumb rock bands over the past 15 years, is likely the one responsible for the narrowing down of Electric Touch’s sound into something equally palatable to the Top 40 and what remains of rock radio. But you wouldn’t expect anything less from the guy who helped make successes out of Creed, P.O.D., Hookbastank, and Daughtry. It’s probably also not a coincidence that the band has a new bassist and keyboardist to go with their new, streamlined sound.
I will say this for Never Look Back: it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and does it well. The songs on the album are all catchy and very listenable, and with only 10 tracks, Never Look Back doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, Benson has done an impressive job of calibrating the album. Each and every song lasts between three and four minutes; the shortest is 3:04 and the longest is 3:50.
“Don’t Stop”, the album’s opener and first single, is by far the best song here. Driven by Messina, Jr.‘s thumping disco beat, the song has a great keyboard riff and big, buzzing guitars. English-born singer Shane Lawlor’s slightly raspy, sneering voice is a perfect fit for the oversexed lyrics, “No no don’t stop / Doing what you do to me.” The track even takes a mid-song break for a piano-and-strings breakdown before picking back up for the traditional guitar solo. As far as big, dumb rock songs go, “Don’t Stop” is nigh-irresistible.
The rest of the album follows in similar fashion, but it never hits the pop perfection of “Don’t Stop” again. Without that not-quite-quantifiable extra something, it becomes easier to hear how much Electric Touch is using catchiness to mask their reliance on cliché. The lyrics of almost every track on the album find Lawlor singing about sex, lust, or occasionally love. “Beautiful Mess”, “Do it Again”, and “Magnetic” are in minor keys, so those are the ones about how hot or attractive he finds the women in the songs. On the other hand, the string synths and major key of “I Can’t Wait” signify a kinder, ostensibly sweeter love song. “From the summer in July / To the winter in the late December / If I tell you that it’s love / You’ll tell me it will last forever.” Of course, Lawlor follows up the chorus with, “Lyin’ naked in my bed / Just like a daydream love scene stuck in my head.”
The band does change up their formula occasionally, but they just change over to slightly different clichés. The album features two honest-to-God power ballads, “Alone” and “Tears in the Dark.” Both of these songs take full advantage of Lawlor’s vocal resemblance to Motley Crue’s Vince Neil and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott. “Alone” swells in all the right places as Lawlor whines about how he wants to be alone so no girls can break his heart anymore. “Tears in the Dark” features a simple, clean electric guitar riff with piano accompaniment that’s juuust close enough to the Crue classic “Home Sweet Home” to give the song a nostalgic feeling without being instantly recognizable. I don’t even own a lighter but listening to the song makes me want to pull one out and slowly wave it back and forth.
“All the Love” shifts the script by aping U2 with a chiming, very Edge-like sixteenth-note guitar riff on the verses. Then the chorus features a drum breakdown with the old reliable rhythm pattern 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2 1-2. Never Look Back wraps up with the appropriately wistful-sounding “Dominos”. The verse lyrics are written almost entirely in meaningless platitudes: “Farewell to fiction / So long to sorrow / No complications / No hurt tomorrow / I’m tired of losing time / I’m leaving all your mess behind / I guess I’ve had enough of giving up.” String synths again dominate the verses while the chorus features an appropriately soaring guitar riff.
It’s hard to get too upset about how formulaic Never Look Back is. Benson clearly knows his stuff and he’s produced an album that sounds like it should be all over the radio. It may also kill any buzz Electric Touch picked up with their first album, but with four years in between records, I’m not sure how much, if any, indie-rock buzz the band still had. If the album leads to big success for Electric Touch, then good for them. This isn’t the sort of album music nerds recommend to their friends, but it’s exactly the sort of album 13-year old girls recommend to their friends when they’re looking for something besides the latest boy bands.