It’s 2010, and Boston rockers TAB the Band are in an expansive mood. A threesome for their first two records — the ’08 twofer of Pulling Out Just Enough to Win (tee hee) and Long Weekend — TAB driving forces (and sons of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry) guitarist Tony and singer/bassist Adrian Perry, along with drummer Ben Tileston, have added rhythm guitarist Lou Jannetty to the fold, and with Zoo Noises inflate their Sticky Fingers-redux sound. (As if the two-headed, spread-winged bat of the album cover wasn’t a tip-off of the band’s ambitions.) At a whopping 16 tracks and nearly 50 minutes, Zoo Noises is an album that celebrates rock and roll, but could stand a healthy pruning.
TAB (an acronym for founders Tony, Adrian, and Ben) captured ears with their first two aforementioned discs: two lean, mean, funny, and fun slices of album rock that boasted a healthy reverence for circa-’67 Stones leavened with a dose of Carter-era Cheap Trick, with songs built off of meaty riffs, compacted into three minutes, and cloaked in absurdity with titles that never appeared in the songs themselves. TAB positioned themselves as big-hearted rockers with a playfully difficult streak. Zoo Noises still finds some cheek-planted tongue — the acoustic opening “closer”, “It’s Over”, f’rinstance — but the album sounds baggy just when the quartet should be at their tightest.
Side A, fortunately, is all keepers, from the galloping single “Bought and Sold”, the still-indebted-to-Mick-‘n’-Keef “I’ll Be Waiting”, the polyrhythmic “She Said No (I Love You)”, and the slightly punky detour “Left for Dead in Hilton Head”. The album’s first eight tunes match up favorably with everything the band has put to wax to date, showcasing the band’s knack for economic riffage, forward thrust, and a sense of reckless excitement. TAB remembers that “album rock” used to be a thing to aspire to.
Side B’s slackening, then, seems all the more dire when compared to its eight front-end predecessors. Two songs crib from British folk — “Your Mission” and “A Girl Like You” — and end up sounding like Xeroxes of Xeroxes of the White Stripes’ “Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn”. The darker-hued “On Course” kills a lot of momentum as well. “Southern Town”, meanwhile, is a harmless, goofy, campfire singalong with a throwaway reference to the Cask ‘n’ Flagon — the Landsdowne Street sports bar just a few doors down from the ‘Smith’s old stomping grounds, Mama Kin.
Of course, after all my bitching and moaning, Zoo Noises‘ two best tracks are on the record’s back half: “Because I Want To”, inexplicably sandwiched between the faux-Brit folkers, captures TAB at their swaggering, clever best: lines like “I’ll make any plans you want me to make… ‘cuz I want to” paint a funny picture of a scoundrel’s last refuge — capitulation. The closing “I Don’t Mind If You Cry” drops the band’s emotional/ironic shields and coulda, shoulda been the 11th track on Sticky Fingers.
TAB the Band know how to craft winning tunes, and hell, they do it more often than not on Zoo Noises. Still, odd sequencing, too many experiments, a frustrating lack of focus — Zoo Noises‘ demerits are everything the band had managed to avoid to this point in their recording career.