The Bangkok Five: Whos Gonna Take Us Alive?

[20 June 2006]

By Jason MacNeil

Murray Head sang about Bangkok a long time ago, with a ridiculous video that almost matched the inane nature to the song. But hell, it was a hit wasn’t it? Not that California rock group the Bangkok Five would have anything in common with Head or with the Thai city in general. The group has played with a host of bands recently, and has actually had some serious support from that new bastion of talent in As of this writing, the band was just in the midst of a Canadian support slot along with controller.controller for the Cult. And fans of Duffy and Astbury would be wise to get there a little bit early to check them out. The album’s cover art looks like a rowdy hardcore punk release, but the Bangkok Five sound like they’ve hit the mother load with a rousing, lean, and purely primal Strokes-ian title track that bludgeons one on the head. Lead singer Frost doesn’t really steal the song, but does nothing to diminish the surprisingly stellar opener. The chorus has more in common with the Killers, but it still packs that foot-stomping hellfire energy.

It’s that opening number that will lead many to believe there’s going to be a huge drop off from there, but the Bangkok Five still deliver the goods with the tamer, mid-tempo power-pop rock of “Karmakazi” that brings to mind those Ferdinand boys if they went to David Lee Roth’s school of rock. The group can churn out fine rock tunes that don’t come off like parodies, although this boundary is tested with the rather ordinary “Starting Me Up Again (Diary of a Teenage Cutter)”. Any song that tries to include “woo hoo” from time to time should be treated skeptically, and this one ends up doing just that. The Bangkok Five rarely have songs that are terribly slick or over-produced, with drummer Blanco, bassist Cortez, and the twin tandem of guitarists Holcomb and Sweeney (hey, they’re all known by one-word names!) working their magic on the pounding “Spread Eagle”. The only annoyance is the laugh that concludes the tune.

The first clunker is “Tiara”, a song that starts with an introduction to the tune and what it’s about. Frost does his best with the tune, and the guitars chime in, but the chorus really falls short, with no sense of direction or promise. It could be construed as the best song Louis XIV has never recorded. And when they don’t beat the listener over the head with this garage rock sound, they show their musical Achilles heel. This happens later on with “Turn It Up”, another tamer, mid-tempo rocker that also throws in some hi-hat for good measure. Thankfully, they get back to basics for “Damaged Goods”, which has the urgency and the prowess they’ve shown quite often so far. Think of a modern day Billy Idol on this track and you should get the gist of what’s happening. The band, well Frost really, returns to that Casablancas-like delivery for the elementary rocker “Live Like a Criminal”, which hits its groove just before the chorus and during the nifty bridge.

Perhaps the highlight of the latter tracks has to be the intense and straightforward “Chapter 11”, with the rhythm section airtight and everything humming along on all cylinders. After an ordinary but well-delivered “Dead Lights”, the Bangkok Five continue to hit you about the noggin with more meaty riffs and catchy choruses. Some might say it’s rather silly music that’s all been done before. And they might be right, but the Bangkok Five just wants to assure you that it will be done again, regardless, but maybe not as well as it is here.

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