Sometimes talent is not a matter of argument. Big Talk is flush with it, mostly in the hands of Ronnie Vannucci, known best for his drumming in the Killers. Vannucci makes the lion’s share of sounds on Big Talk’s debut: singing, drumming and playing keyboards and guitars. He’s crafted an album that sounds slick and competent the whole way through. But unlike talent, taste is always in dispute.
Big Talk has a lot going for it really: big smooth vocals, expert production, impeccably synced instrumentation and some catchy, catchy songs. Vannucci’s guitar work, along with collaborator Taylor Milne, is tremendous and accomplished. The unmistakably rich and trebly tone of a Telecaster gives life to the strings on Big Talk, at times sounding affected and atmospheric until it’s dramatically spotlighted on a swaggering lead. The interplay between the guitars and keyboards are key to the contemporary mainstream-meets-cutting-edge sound that defines Big Talk, but like communism, the XFL and ketchup-flavored potato chips, Big Talk sounds better in theory than in practice.
The biggest problem with Big Talk is the lack of originality. It’s apparent that Vannucci blended his interests with his abilities without much exploration, rarely stepping outside of the confines of familiar rock sounds, old and new. In fact, he has a real knack for identifying the cliches and minutiae of mainstream rock and making them general. The melodies, the harmonies, the chords, the drums, they’re all inexplicably reminiscent something we’ve heard on the radio. Hence, everything here is intuitive, easily digestible and better on the first listen than on the tenth.
Vannucci and Milne are standing on slouchy shoulders of pedestrian predecessors and walking in the footsteps of a path too often trampled by ’80s rockers like Don Henley, .38 Special and Tom Petty with too little of their own twist to make it feel fresh. As an artist, you can’t choose your inspiration, but you can choose which influences you draw from and in what manner. Unfortunately, Big Talk’s choice of derivations makes for a sound that lacks excitement and comes off inartistic.
What’s worse is how quickly Big Talk begin to imitate themselves. Repetition and formula become quickly apparent. Musically, it’s the predictable dynamics of mood and volume that make for a one-dimensional emotional experience and lyrically, it’s all heartbreak and one-way conversations broken down into redundant themes and singular, one sentence choruses.
Not all music is supposed to be art and some listeners will love these 12 tunes about women and whiskey, especially more mature fans of the Killers. To Big Talk’s credit, at least three songs here are worthy of being singles. The bouncy, synth-driven breakup declaration “Getaways”, with a lighthearted beat and a contagious chorus, is one of the collections best. Another standout is “The Next One Living”, which features beautifully slight singing over a solid electro-acoustic backing. Ostensibly, the song that is the most indicative of the overall style, however, is the standard issue slow rocker “Replica”. It’s the outliers, though, that are Big Talk’s best. Stylistically, “Whiskey” and “Big Eye” are the most departing tracks of the bunch, lending to the notion that a little deviation might have done this album a great service. Instead, what we have is an attempt to boil down old cliches into something fresh, but instead reducing them to the lowest thing rock music: a boring album.