Beach Slang Hit a Wall on 'Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City'

Photo: Courtesy of Girlie Action Media

On Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, James Alex's (Beach Slang) homage to his heroes sounds exhausted.

The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City
Beach Slang

Bridge Nine

10 January 2020

In 2018, Beach Slang frontman James Alex described his Philadelphia pop-punk outfit as a "fawning" homage to the Replacements. He's not the first to point that out; much of the excitement surrounding the band's debut, 2015's The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, drew positive comparisons to Paul Westerberg's endearingly drunk, heart-on-sleeve anthems. And, really, it's not a bad formula. You could do a lot worse than ripping off Let It Be, Tim, or Pleased to Meet Me. But after two records as Beach Slang and a third as Quiet Slang (a full album of acoustic renditions of Beach Slang songs), it seems he's finally hit a wall. The band's latest, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, is an aimless collection of half-baked ideas that makes 33 minutes feel interminable.

According to Alex, his process for Deadbeat Bang was smashing "Angus Young into Marc Bolan". The problem is that Beach Slang's alchemy ignores both of those acts' gleeful embrace of tongue-in-cheek camp. The results are humorless late 1970s facsimiles like "Bam Rang Rang", "Stiff", "Born to Raise Hell" ーsongs with sleazy riffs and dumb lyrics that lack even the slightest wink. It's as if they stopped trying to write "Bastards of Young" and instead set their sights on the more attainable "Dose of Thunder".

It's not all loud bluster, though. Acoustic numbers "Nobody Say Nothing" and "Nowhere Bus" conclude the record's A-side. Meanwhile, the nearly seven-minute "Bar No One", a painfully slow piece of melodrama about looking "pretty in my grave", brings the album to a close. Alex remarked that Quiet Slang's key influence was the Magnetic Fields, but the overblown string arrangements and strained whisper vocals sound a lot closer to the Goo Goo Dolls' worst moments.

At this point, Beach Slang seems to be facing the same creative exhaustion that plagued other Westerberg acolytes, like the Gaslight Anthem and Japandroids, in the last decade. I guess that's to be expected. How long can you sing about being an underdog when you're playing sold-out clubs? How many times can you write for "the kids" when you're old enough to have them?

The problem is that so many bands who worship at the altar of Westerberg reduce him to little more than a humorless, hopeless romantic. But part of what made the Replacements so great was their ability to mock the whole self-serious industry of "rock and roll" while simultaneously writing some of its greatest songs. Yet it's damn near impossible to imagine the Gaslight Anthem showing up drunk to Saturday Night Live or Beach Slang naming an album Stink.

Despite its lows, there are a few promising glimmers of hope on Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, where Alex proves he's still more than capable of penning catchy songs when he's playing to his strengths. "Kicking Over Bottles" and "Tommy in the 80s" are sugary power-pop nuggets that suggest steps forward from the formula of his earlier records. They left me optimistic about what James Alex might sound like when he's done trying to impersonate his heroes.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.