[10 November 2008]
Do you remember the good ol’ days of the early 2000s? U.S. jingoism and the dance punk revival were all the rage. Liars scored with the frenetic and partially experimental They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Franz Ferdinand won the Mercury Prize with a decidedly average album but had a justifiable indie hit with “Take Me Out”. What an exciting time to be alive! Then, the inevitable onslaught of bands just like Franz Ferdinand but with fewer good songs ruined the mood. These poor, departed bands are fresh enough in our brains and must remain nameless out of respect and willful amnesia.
Flash forward to the end of 2008 and here comes Spanish outfit We Are Standard with their second album. This self-titled release comes after 2007’s 3.000V-40.000W, and would fit neatly into the aforementioned poor, departed band category of days gone by. Of course, musicians of this ilk are all indebted (along with many others of different ilks) with 1979’s classic Entertainment! by Gang of Four. This album was the thinking man’s post-punk designed for the dance floor. Sadly, few bands have something new to add to the equation, and the ones that do, like Liars, tend to move on to other realms. The carbon copy is never as good as the original.
But We Are Standard had an idea that sounds good on paper: Attempt to avoid the carbon copy syndrome by hiring Gang of Four’s Andy Gill to produce their new album. Ace idea, right? Well… no. Initial plans to have Gill create a “minimal sound” went terribly awry. Perhaps Gill and the band lost focus of the original intent after the eight months of constant re-working during the sessions for this album. Overstuffed with overdubs and buffed to a blinding shine, each track on We Are Standard comes off as entirely featureless. The press materials for the album go to great lengths to describe the painstaking work that went into the sessions. I’ll spare you the exhaustive details, but each track has at least five different snare sounds. Yes. Five. Snare. Sounds. Please step back from the ProTools.
The production would be (slightly) more tolerable if the songs were less paint-by-numbers. Rhyming “lips” and “fingertips” between shouted, empty slogans make for a dumb, derivative listening experience. The formula: A tired disco beat leads into a huge chorus. Repeat. Repeat chorus. They even cop a Bono falsetto “ooo-hoo” on “The Last Time” (both versions). Please.
Since there’s really not much else to say about the music, We Are Standard’s website/promotional material juxtaposed with their choice of producer provides stark illustration of the band’s overall denseness. The band’s website prominently features “four full-color erotic fights” with women in their underwear putting choke holds on each other. It’s as juvenile and sexist as it sounds, and is exactly the kind of material Andy Gill and the rest of Gang of Four railed against in their best work. We Are Standard obviously absorbed the punk-funk beats of Gang of Four, and even hired a band member to produce their record, but their music has none of the substance and edge that made their heroes so vital.
Is it the 2010s yet?