Try as they might, Goldfinger can't escape the shadow of their decade-old debut.
Indulge me a brief story, if you will. A few weeks back, some buddies and I were waiting in line to see Queens of the Stone Age, discussing upcoming concerts we needed to buy tickets for. The guy behind us, a few years our junior, chimed in that he had trouble scoring tickets for '90s acts Weezer, Garbage and Nine Inch Nails. After we parted ways with the kid, my friends and I teased the kid and his desire to see once-mighty, now struggling artists in concert behind his back: "Who else is he gonna see? Dishwalla? Deep Blue Something?" (Yes, we're jerks.) To the list of bands still hanging around, trying to survive a decade after striking it big, let's add Goldfinger, whose fifth studio album, Disconnection Notice, arrives with little fanfare to a music landscape very different one from the one that greeted their eponymous debut almost 10 years ago.
In 1996, Goldfinger rode the wave of pop/third wave ska/punk up the charts, scoring a deserving hit with the bouncy "Here in Your Bedroom"... and then proceeded to fall off the map. Nine years, a move away from ska and towards a more hard-edged rock sound, a few record label and line-up changes later, and Goldfinger -- these days, lead singer John Feldmann, bassist Kelly LeMieux, guitarist Brian Arthur and drummer Darrin Pfeiffer -- is another face in the crowd. Disconnection Notice won't catapult the band back to the fringes of stardom -- even in their heyday, could you have recognized the band on the street? -- but it also won't resign them to the county fair tour circuit.
Throughout its career, Goldfinger has been content to dole out midtempo rockers about their emotions, indeed, "Ocean Size" sums it up: "My feelings and my meanings are ocean size long before I ever met you." (sic) They're best when they're a heart-on-sleeve band. Frontman Feldmann has been chronicling and analyzing relationships from the start, with a keen eye and clever, conversational turn-of-phrase (the above notwithstanding), so it's unclear why many of Disconnection's lyrics veer into obtuseness and humorlessness.
I'm all for the ska beat anchoring "Behind the Mask" but could someone please explain how the song's lyrics like "So now I'm jaded / Friends turn to enemies" tie into a recording of a woman protesting slaughterhouses? (The band has worked with PETA for many years, but that still doesn't answer the question.) And the overtly political "Iron Fist" -- "I'm watching as my house is raided / Like I'm some sort of terrorist / I thought that they were democratic / Not an iron fist" -- isn't fun to listen to, despite the friendly additions of what sounds like keyboards and a steel guitar. Artists are free to speak their minds, but when did Goldfinger turn into Steve Earle's kid brothers?
Elsewhere, odd sonic and thematic tonal choices plague the album. One of the album's more upbeat numbers, "Too Many Nights" is, in actuality, a life-on-tour lament, and "I Want" sounds angry -- never Feldmann's best vocal tack -- but it's an affirmation of love with a message that's nearly lost in the arrangement and delivery: "I want and I need nothing else but you" will end up in the next note I write my girlfriend, but it won't end up on a mix CD for her.
But for all their incorporation of new sounds and new (for them) musical ideas, Goldfinger still sound best performing ska-inflected, slightly silly songs, as evinced by closing track "Stalker". It boasts an excellent guitar riff, a bouncy, meaty bassline and lyrics like "She's off her rocker / I wanna marry my stalker" -- its charm matches that of all the other eleven songs on Disconnection Notice combined. Plus, with its "oh oh oh" chorus, I'll be damned if the band doesn't sound like early Police, and that's always a good thing. One can envision "Stalker" fitting in on the back half of Outlandos d'Amour, right next to the charming weirdness of "Be My Girl/Sally", to say nothing of the tune hearkening back to Goldfinger's debut. I realize a band can't live in the past, but in Goldfinger's case, and with the excellent "Stalker" as proof, I'd be willing to make an exception.