[15 September 2005]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It seems that today’s hipster cannot accept the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy big, loud, dumb rock music on a completely unironic level. There always has to be a gimmick, a little wink from the artist to assure the hipsters that they’re in on a joke: it was okay to embrace Turbonegro’s comeback two years ago, not because they’re one of the best glam metal revivalist bands around, but because they sing funny songs about NAMBLA and erections. When The Darkness came from out of nowhere in 2003 with their power ballads and falsetto vocals, the cool crowd were under the misapprehension they were a parody act, but when the band broke in the UK, and then in North America, classic rock radio blaring “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, ordinary folks dug it because it was fun, not because it was a sly in-joke about the vapidity of hair metal. And, most deplorably, when 100 people died at the tragic Great White concert in West Warwick, Rhode Island, we heard few remarks about how the people were there to hear music that made them feel good, and mostly wise-ass cracks about how lame a band Great White were.
Thankfully, young American bands such as Young Heart Attack and Louis XIV are intent following in The Darkness’s platform-shoed footsteps, diligently trying to bring the fun back to the sagging American rock scene, and despite a surprisingly chilly critical reaction (Louis XIV’s otherwise fine debut album netted a paltry Metacritic score of 55), it’s been a welcome respite from both corporate rockers like Nickelback and indie geeks like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Queens, New York’s Diamond Nights are the latest band willing to bring some flair back to guitar rock, and while their uber-cool labelmates Dungen and Lansing-Dreiden cater to the artsy crowd, this quartet heads in a completely different direction. After the good teaser EP Once We Were Diamonds whet peoples’ appetites, their first full-length album, the aptly titled Popsicle, arrives, set to be devoured.
Like The Darkness, Diamond Nights are all about classic arena rock from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but whereas The Darkness were heavily indebted to Queen, Diamond Nights are all about Thin Lizzy; Morgan Phalen and Rob Laasko mimic the dual guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, while Phalen sings in a husky rasp that is very reminiscent of the great Phil Lynott. In addition, the album’s production is brilliantly retro, the guitars having the same warm tone as heard on Judas Priest’s Stained Class, Tim Traynor’s drums given the same sans reverb treatment that many rock albums had three decades ago.
The songs themselves, for the most part, deliver. Four of the five EP tracks are present on Popsicle (all but the silly toss-off track “Buddies”), and they still rank among the highlights in the band’s repertoire. “Destination Diamonds” is one of the year’s better rock tracks, the main guitar riff hinting at a loping, Lizzy-style gallop, Phalen shifting from his Lynott homage to inject his own Justin Hawkins style falsetto during the contagious, lovably dumb chorus of, “Baby do you like to mess around?” The simple rifferama of “Saturday Fantastic” sounds as if it was written for the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, hinting at both early Kiss (circa 1971) and the old Sniff ‘N’ the Tears tune “Driver’s Seat”. The delightfully lecherous “The Girl’s Attractive” continues where Louis XIV’s equally leering “Finding Out True Love Is Blind” left off, this time, adding more of a Billy Idol vibe (think “Cradle of Love”), Phalen’s deadpan vocals offset nicely by a catchy synth hook.
The rest of the album brings a surprising amount of variety. “It’s a Shokka” and “Needle in the Face” are astonishing in their similarity to the late ‘70s/early ‘80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, whip-smart combinations of obscure, yet seminal rockers Tygers of Pan Tang and Sweet Savage, as well as a touch of Judas Priest’s “Exciter” for good measure. “Red Hex” boasts more of a glam sound, Phalen taking on more of a boyish, Marc Bolan vocal style, while the languid acoustic shuffle of “Snaky Ruth” offers a breather from all the cock-rockery. The band do come perilously close to pushing things too far on a couple of occasions: the herky-jerky, almost reggae-like syncopation of “Drip Drip” is highlighted by a terrific synth breakdown, but is an odd fit with the rest of the album, while the riff in “Dirty Thief” bears a distracting similarity to The Young Ones’ classic “Another Girl, Another Planet”, but is rescued by the soaring chorus.
If people are willing to embrace the likeable, and equally sincere tunes by such nu romantics as The Killers, why not this album, too? Diamond Nights have the chops, the charisma, and the songwriting smarts, and now a very enjoyable debut album that delivers on their initial promise; they’re just an Eric Roberts cameo away from the big time. There’s nothing wrong with hip indie rock; in fact, a lot of it is great. Sometimes, though, all you need are a bunch of big, dumb riffs to get you going, and Popsicle is an ideal fix. Come on, say it loud: Yeah, yeah. All right. It’s Saturday night.