There’s a very fine line between influence and imitation, homage and originality. A band can either synthesize or rip-off — it’s all in their hands. Oasis blatantly imitate the Beatles, but with a bent that’s uniquely their own. When Cobain was famously quoted as saying “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a rip-off of the Pixies, it was true, but said with genuine sincerity. Even the Killers, who so blatantly cop the digital sheen of the ’80s, at least marry them to the joyous bombastic choruses of post-millennial alt-rock. In these cases, hints of originality linger in these bands — that’s why we still talk about them. Those that steal ideas blatantly from (simply for the sole reasons of success) — these are the artists that are relegated to one-hit-wonder compilations or less.
Enter The Legends, formed by dance-rock enthusiast Johan Angergard. Though their debut, Up Against the Legends, was an indie-pop and ’60s-influenced underground hit, here they follow up with an album that shoots directly for the heart of late Joy Division/early New Order: heavy melodic synth washes, reverberated guitar strings, recorded-in-a-stall vocals barely audible in the mix. Yet they don’t simply imitate the keyboard innovators as much as trying to be them here on their sophomore album, Public Radio. The album in question can be summed up in one word: horrid.
Angergard has all the dance-moves down, but fails in execution. The droning synth wave that opens the album on “Today” sounds exactly like the kind you’d hear the first day the instrument was ever committed to tape, but just because your instruments sound like the time period you’re shooting for doesn’t mean you achieve the same effect. The album not only lacks in originality, it just lacks in flat-out energy. The only high point, “Something Good”, recalls the garage-pop of their first album, and perhaps that’s why it succeeds, adding “ooh-ahh” vocals and — interestingly enough — actual personality.
Single “He Knows the Sun”, induces cringes on the very first listen — a barely-there guitar riff hitting the three notes needed to make any pop song work, but the chords themselves sound processed, tinny, and lacking in imagination. The sheer fact that they call one of their songs “I Want to Be Like Everybody Else” isn’t a nod of irony — it feels like an admission of defeat. Even the requisite piano ballad (“So Much for Tomorrow”) lacks of any real pulse or — even worse — honesty in the vocal inflection.
Though the Legends should certainly be commended for doing something as noble as completely switching styles with each album, they’d receive even more acclaim if such switches were successful. The ambition to try and do everything at once is understandable — but knowing in what areas your own talent is limited is just as important.