[26 June 2012]
PopMatters Assistant Editor
It’s been a long day at the plant. You’re covered in sweat and grime, your muscles ache and your eyelids are drooping under the weight of the 10-hour shift you’ve just pulled. Feels like it’s time to hit up the pub, you think to yourself. Upon entering the hole-in-the-wall three blocks from your flat (just in case the two beers you limit yourself to become five), you’re greeted with nods and salutes from coworkers, who are equally fatigued. Without waiting for your gesture, the barman slides a pint to your typical barstool. Just before you go to sit down, however, you decide it’d be nice to put some music on. Some music is just suited to the pub environment, and upon flipping through the jukebox you come upon an album you aren’t familiar with: Streets in the Sky by the Enemy. The bright cover looks appealing enough, so you put in your change and select the record.
The previous scene is how the Enemy wish people would listen to Streets in the Sky. The LP’s broad-themed pub rock is mathematically engineered to be friendly to riotous crowds of young rock fans and the workingperson alike, with accessible punk riffs and anthemic choruses to be found on every track. This stuff is supposed to played in union pubs, sweat-filled concert halls, and, of course, rock radio. As a result, even if you don’t like the Enemy, you have to at least recognize their energy and affability.
Unfortunately, Streets in the Sky manages to be both energetically boring and affable to the point of being completely inoffensive. Sure, you can pump your fists in the air to match the guitar riffs, but after one song you’ll find yourself wondering if the Enemy are ever going to change up their formula. (Spoiler alert: They don’t.) The half-singing/half-shouting technique of vocalist Tom Clarke loses its power a few minutes in, as does the punchy distortion of his guitar, which for a moment could have given Streets in the Sky a modicum of edginess. When stripped down to their most basic form, The Enemy really are a watered-down punk band. Some of the riffs here could have prevented a lapse into generic, flat songwriting, but in the end those riffs lose any force due to a lack of embellishment or style. Streets in the Sky’s intensity may suggest it’s not a pop/punk album, but dirty distortion aside, the Enemy do punk more or less like pop.
Now, detractors may say I’m wrong in trying to analyze Streets in the Sky or the Enemy’s oeuvre as a whole with the expectation of intricate or wholly provocative music. I certainly am not trying to do that; sometimes a punk song is a punk song, after all. Moreover, a look at the names of the group’s past outings reveals essentially what they’re aiming at. Both We’ll Live and Die in These Towns and Music for the People suggest the Enemy are aiming at a universal appeal geared toward the everyperson; they make punk music for the populace. This goal certainly isn’t bad, but if Streets in the Sky is any indication the populace isn’t so smart. If this album is an indication of our desires, we like our music to be safe in the guise of hard-hitting, with a lot of energetic screaming that in the end doesn’t amount to saying much. But while One Direction and Ke$ha’s brand of mass-produced pop may continue to fly off the shelves, I’d like to think the general public isn’t so brainless. Given the resurgence of independent, literate music, there’s good reason to believe the hoi polloi aren’t always keen to the superficial.
So in a way, Streets in the Sky does sound like it could relate to the workingperson’s life, though not in the way the band intends. Instead of evoking the toils of long, weary labor, it instead reflects the mass-manufactured products of those factories. There are thousands of others to be found, each one just as bland as the next.