If we are to believe most of the world’s music critics, nothing in rock is new. At least once a decade, rock decides to revamp itself, more often by cannibalizing its grandparents. Or perhaps the intent is much like eating one’s conquered opponents in an attempt to gain the enemy’s power and prowess; by digesting their musical ancestors, maybe these bands will have mastery bestowed upon them, or at least they’ll make a few solid hits. In reality, the usual outcome of such a practice — save the odd Strokes or Redwalls — is indigestion.
Case in point: the self-titled debut of the Quarter After. If the Brian Jonestown Massacre (touring partner and an apparent friend of the Quarter After) is gunning to be the next Rolling Stones and the members of Jet say they’re writing songs the Beatles never wrote, then the Quarter After is chasing the mantle of 12-string folk and Nuggets-era psychedelia, including Love, the early Electric Prunes, and a pastiche of the bands that overran the Sunset Strip in the mid-’60s thanks to the Byrds.
Indeed, the influence of Roger McGuinn’s seminal protest band on the QA is as obvious as a flesh wound under a white suit. The album’s kick-off track, “So Far to Fall”, exhibits ringing 12-string guitars, gorgeous harmonies, and the driving beat one would expect from the Byrds, circa 1965 to ’67. The rest of the album follows suit with the exception of three frustrating forays into acidic, fuzz-toned jams that take up nearly half of the hour-long record.
To be fair, if The Quarter After wants the responsibility of being heir to the 12-string throne, it has a lot going for it: an album with solid production, competent musicianship, and a nostalgic sound. But like most of the other “pastiche” bands, a genre association brings about the album’s single major shortcoming.
Carrying on rock eras is a commendable effort. Without the “classic-is-good-but-we-can-do-it-better” attitude, the British Merseybeat movement wouldn’t have happened; if a bunch of skinny tie fans hadn’t tried to out-write the Beatles, power pop wouldn’t have started in the mid-’70s. The trick is, though, that homage is the start – exploration and evolution are why those genres flourished and grew bodies of their own.
Though this is only their debut album, the Quarter After has painted itself into a curious corner. Their focus is obviously recapturing a sound; granted, their production is great and their instruments well used, but songwriting is obviously not where their heads are. This might be a touch unfair, considering the Byrds started out as basically a Bob Dylan cover band, translating his protest music to amplifiers while they fought for a writing style. But the Byrds eventually found their own sound, though they still had Dylan’s music, which guaranteed them four songs for their debut album. Alas, even with Anton Newcombe as a friend, the members of The Quarter After don’t have a Dylan to help them through their early days.
All in all, The Quarter After may have a rough road ahead. They sound good, but the Byrds’ throne has already been claimed; power poppers The Flamin’ Groovies mastered the 12-string homage format nearly 30 years ago with 1976’s Shake Some Action. Their material was begun using the Byrds’ tools, but they trashed the instructions and built their own machines. They were catchier, too. It’s a succession that, above all, requires a touch of writing magic. Only time will tell whether or not The Quarter After are able to conjure that magic.