When the Garage Rock Class of 2001 took their seats on the first day of school, they were a flashy bunch indeed — a mixed bag of oil spill-slick New Yorkers and blue collar bar thumpers from Detroit, along with those nutty Aussies with the autistic frontman. The Strokes? The White Stripes? The Vines? Present!
Who can blame the teachers and listeners among us for missing those Swedish Marxists in the back row? After all, those prize pupils produced Is This It?, White Blood Cells and Highly Evolved, respectively, during the same year and basked in the radio glow for their efforts. And besides, we already had those Swedes in the matching suits who gave us Veni Vidi Vicious the year before.
But after the effort of 2000’s Survival Sickness, the (International) Noise Conspiracy deserved better — a place near the front of the class, if not a chance to rake its fingers across the chalkboard. And the calculated jolt of 2001’s A New Morning, Changing Weather proved the band’s worth — here were the same Stooges influences of T(I)NC’s contemporaries, mixed with the Cars, the Go-Gos and a bit of Jon Spencer. Yet no one would think to call T(I)NC contemporaries because, hell, who could hear singer Dennis Lyxzén’s precocious howls from the back of the room?
Well, Rick Rubin heard, but his efforts on 2004’s Armed Love suggested that the modern mystic of record production spins as much garbage as gold from his bushy beard. Still, T(I)NC recognizes support when called on and, with Rubin and a newly cosmopolitan Vagrant Records in its camp, is back four years later with the full-length The Cross of My Calling in its raised hand.
Records can be years in the making and still sound rushed, and The Cross of My Calling is no different. Two tracks serve as wordless filler — neither hidden nor cared for with the titles “Intro” and “Interlude” — and, coupled with the title-track finale, account for 25 percent of the album’s length, a flabby 49 minutes. But the two spitballing instrumentals serve their purpose in one important respect: They ease listeners into the psychedelic blues riffs that run through the bulk of Calling‘s 14 tracks.
In fact, “Intro” calls up the sort of spit-shined guitar fangs that Lyxzén’s former band, Refused, used to beautiful effect on swan song The Shape of Punk to Come. Unfortunately, T(I)NC drops the tempo for “The Assasination of Myself”, and hands out a few of Calling‘s other concessions: guitarist Lars Strömberg exchanges his formerly jagged guitar riffs for power chords and school lunch solos and Lyxzén’s bullhorn vocals now sound tidy as Dave Grohl’s.
Calling is difficult to hear in the aftermath of Survival Sickness and A New Morning. There are growing pains here, and many aren’t pleasant. For a wordy bunch like T(I)NC, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” is lyrically empty and seems included here as a vehicle for Lyxzén’s harmonica solo. Worse, “Washington Bullets” passes out war image clichés with a sweetness that makes the band seem downright irresponsible (especially given the six-part footnote included in the midst of the CD booklet for this song, a half-formed screed against U.S. foreign policy).
Every so often, T(I)NC does its homework. The tribal drum breaks and stutter-spit chorus from Lyxzén in “Child of God” (“My! Sins! Will! Carry! Me! Home!”) deserve high marks, and “Arm Yourself” calls up the keyboard blasts from older songs like “Smash It Up”, pairs them with all-gas, no-sass drumming and even marries ’em with a restrained freakout from Strömberg’s guitar.
But previous records from T(I)NC didn’t ask listeners to wade through so much fluff for so little satisfaction. T(I)NC used to carve out records like graffiti into a desk — each screed was nasty, brutish and short. The Cross of My Calling just sounds like an unfinished assignment.