Imagine sitting in the back of a car being driven by a drunken cab driver: lengthy periods speeding down stretches of road, causing panic to sit in the pit of your stomach; then, a jamming of the brakes as the car has to navigate and circle around a corner. You might at times feel a sense of exhilaration; most of the time, though, the head and the heart will be thinking, “Get me out of here!”
On first listen, the British would-be indie heroes Palma Violets’ new release, Danger in the Club feels just like that unwelcome car ride. Second time around, there are perhaps more moments of release than you first appreciated. Third time around, the over-riding sensation is, “Gosh, what a short blast of noise that was.”
When Palma Violets first burst on to the scene in 2012 — and “burst” really is the operative word here — they quickly became the new future of English indie rock. Their first single, “Best of Friends”, was voted song of the year by the NME. “Best of Friends” unquestionably sounded like the real deal at the time: a swaggering yet raw testimony about unrequited love, it has an authority and grandeur that summons up the spirit of the Clash and the musicality of the Libertines when on form. The tune even carries a guitar line that Noel Gallagher would have been proud of.
The storyline for Palma Violets since then has unfortunately been one of unrealised expectations. Their first album, 180, was generally well-received (with raptures by the NME, who continues to love them), but it also led to doubts over whether or not the band was yet ready to accept the crown of “saviours of indie” that some wanted to thrust upon them. Danger in the Club is now launched against a background of considerably less anticipation — not that organs like the NME still aren’t searching for the wearers of that mythical pop/rock crown which has passed from innovators such as the Beatles to icons like the Sex Pistols to paragon imitators in the form of Oasis.
Which takes us back to that careering car journey. One of the stand-out features about “Best of Friends” was its grand sense of melody and occasion, and the impression that this band could really play, especially their guitarist/singer Sam Fryer. Those qualities weren’t present enough on 180 and, sad to say, the same criticism can be levelled at Danger in the Club. The second track, “Hollywood”, is a good example of where Palma Violets regularly go wrong: despite its attack and some dynamic chord changes, it ultimately amounts to not much more than a good thrash, reminiscent of the chaos that second-oder Brit punk band the Damned brought to most of their recordings. (Admittedly, New Rose is an exception; its economically controlled excitement still makes it out as one of the best expressions of early punk in the late ’70s). In addition, Palma Violets sound like they’ve enlisted legendary Brit boozer actor Oliver Reed to sing lead vocals — not necessarily a career-enhancing move.
Danger in the Club also repeats another of 180’s conspicuous failings: the band’s tendency to change time signatures and shift abruptly from fast to slow without warning — recall that speeding car as it approaches a sharp bend. Nirvana and the Pixies perfected the practice, of course, but as executed by the Palma Violets it often seems out of place, and feels like there is no real thought behind it. “Coming Over to My Place” starts with a promising doomy sound (bizarrely calling to mind Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”), builds to a crescendo in a manner reminiscent of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in their heydays, but the tension dissipates in an aimless finale that sounds like the band have run out of ideas, ultimately giving up.
The title track atones partly for these transgressions. It shows that, in their best moments, Palma Violets can combine the foreboding noir of the Doors with the swinging musicality of Mick Jones Clash songs. “Matador” is even better, with an epic opening (summoning to mind a David Lynch movie score) and an overall sensation of controlled chaos. “The Jacket Song” unusually features a vocal that’s in tune, an acoustic number that sounds like it’s heavily influenced by Pete Doherty troubadour numbers
Unfortunately, however, the band too often drops the tuneful troubadour for the drunken singalong. Producer John Leckie (the Stone Roses, Radiohead) presumably took the view that you just have to let the Palma Violets “play”. The trouble is that he shouldn’t have let the band’s mates in to play and sing along with them. There’s still time for the Palma Violets to elevate heir music to the next level — even if they probably won’t be the saviours of rock that the NME would like them to be — but Danger in the Club doesn’t make the cut. And, at 28 minutes in total — come on guys, you can give us a bit more than that.