Actionslacks are a band that I've had some trouble with over the years. I first saw them about five years ago, up in Vancouver, BC, opening up for The Posies, and the main thing that struck me then was how much singer Tim Scanlin sounded exactly like Billie Joe from Green Day. Needless to say, it was all downhill from there, and the band's lukewarm spiky pop, rife with scenester references, did little to turn around my most negative first impression.
Fast-forward to 2001. I'd heard that the Actionslacks had a new record out called The Scene's Out of Sight, and that it was produced by uberproducer J. Robbins. Soon after that, I stumbled across a copy of said record for the princely sum of five dollars, and figured "what the hell, if it really sucks I can sell it back on eBay". Not only did it not really suck, it was fantastic! It's amazing what a couple of years and a great producer can do to a band's sound. Although Robbins' sonic skills undoubtedly had a lot to do with the improved sound of the record, it's undeniable that Scanlin's songwriting had improved immeasurably, and the band, in general, was now a much tighter, more convincing unit.
Unfortunately, their latest offering, the cleverly titled Never Never Shake, Baby isn't a new full-length, but what can only be described as a stopgap EP. In fact, this thing virtually defines "stopgap release". Here we have two "new" songs (in fact left over from the Scene's out of Sight sessions), one "remix", one live track, and one cover.
After a listen or two, it becomes immediately obvious why the two new songs, "Annie Oakley" and "Iron Anchor", were left off Scene's in the first place. Although "Iron Anchor" is the better of the two, they're both plodding, relatively tuneless exercises that hearken back to the Actionslacks not-so-storied older work. The remix is of "Shining Jewels", which on Scene's appeared as a jaunty, piano-led ballad. Here it appears with just Scanlin and his acoustic guitar, with some tasty lead playing by J. Robbins. It's nice enough in and of itself, but it's not really any better than the original, and I don't really see the point of its inclusion. The live track, "I Hope This Makes it Easier For You", not only sounds like shit, it's also one of the weakest tracks on Scene's. The song is a big kiss-off to an ex-lover, but manages to make Scanlin sound like a pompous git. The band's comparatively sloppy live performance and lousy recording quality do nothing to redeem the piece. That leaves us with the cover song, a number called "She Talks in Stereo", originally done by an obscure '80s New Wave band called Gary Myrick and the Figures. Having never heard the original, it's hard for me to say how the 'Slacks version compares, but regardless, they turn in quite a fun performance of the tune, held down by a heavy-ass fuzz bass line. It's a good song, but it would feel better if I had run across it randomly on some compilation rather than have it being the standout track on an otherwise pretty damn shoddy release.
I have no trouble believing that the Actionslacks still have a lot of life left in them (especially if they stick with J. Robbins as a producer), and I'm still anxious to hear their next full-length. However, at this point, my recommendation is to throw this Baby out with the bathwater and stick with The Scene's Out of Sight.