[21 May 2008]
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers is one of those bands that draws a devoted cult audience, but is little-known outside that audience. The Peacemakers have been around for about a decade, but Roger Clyne is probably still best-known for his previous band, the Refreshments. Perhaps you remember their one-hit wonder in the mid-‘90s. The song was called “Banditos” and featured the memorable line “Give your I.D. card to the border guard / Now your alias says you’re Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the United Federation of Planets / ‘Cause he won’t speak English, anyway.” The Refreshments broke up after two albums, but singer-songwriter Clyne and drummer P.H. Naffah formed the Peacemakers soon afterwards.
Turbo Ocho is the band’s fifth album, and although the music isn’t a departure from what they’ve done before, everything else about this recording is. Holing up for eight days in their hideaway of Rocky Point, Mexico, Clyne and the Peacemakers set out to write and record a song each day while webcasting the whole process. The sessions actually resulted in nine songs, all of which are included on the album, along with a couple of b-sides, “Captain Suburbia” and “Mexicosis”.
Musically, Clyne continues to write strong, straight-ahead rock songs. “I Speak Your Language” opens the album with a sunny, poppy vibe to go along with equally sunny lyrics: “When you smile / All the darkness disappears / When you smile / That’s all I need to hear.” Cheesy, yes, but it works for the song. “State of the Art” follows, a much darker hard rock song that is one of the disc’s highlights. It’s driven by Naffah’s creative percussion touches and lead guitarist Steve Larson’s minor-key, Mexican-style flourishes; a nice complement to Clyne’s lyrics about technology and men on the wrong side of the law. The album’s other real rocker, the lyrically dumb but really fun “I Do” finds Clyne singing lyrics about how he loves his job, anchored by the chorus “Baby, I do love rock’n'roll.”
Sometimes the band leans toward country, as on the upbeat “I Know You Know”, a redneck rocker. “Summer Number 39” also has a bit of a country feel, with a slide guitar and lazy, loose playing from the band. Being from Arizona, Clyne has always written songs with a sunbaked, southwestern style. Sometimes this comes out in his lyrics, which often involve outlaws and cowboys and trips down to Mexico. Other times it results in songs with an influence from various types of Mexican music. It’s definitely the latter on Turbo Ocho, but this time out it results in the album’s one real misstep, “I Can Drink the Water”. A laid-back track with some nice mariachi-style trumpets, it would be a pretty good tune at three minutes. Unfortunately, it goes on for six minutes and overstays its welcome.
The album closes with the quiet, heartfelt ballad “Persephone” and the bouncy, self-referencing romp “Ma–ana”. Turbo Ocho is a pretty successful effort. The songs are very good, and occasionally great. The most noticeable effect of the compressed writing and recording schedule is on Clyne’s lyrics. Usually he is a great storyteller and lyricist, but that only shows up in maybe half the songs here. The rest seem like rushed, thrown-together lyrics, which is essentially what they are. Fortunately, Clyne sings with such conviction that it’s easy to forgive him for half-assing it, considering the circumstances.
The Peacemakers tour constantly, play exciting live shows, and have a fanbase that eagerly spreads the word about the band. But their straight-ahead rock sound isn’t the sort of thing that indie bloggers go for, so there hasn’t been any critical mass internet buzz about them, and likely never will be. Clyne and his friends have been steadfastly independent since the beginning, releasing all of their albums on their own EmmaJava label. But this cuts out a lot of potential praise from music critics about the band. Whether they want to admit it or not, that praise has really helped out like-minded hard-touring bands the Hold Steady and the Drive-By Truckers. But the Peacemakers seem to be just fine with where they are, so maybe they don’t really care about any of that. Regardless, Turbo Ocho is another strong effort in a long line of strong albums for this band.