Music

World Leader Pretend: Punches

Whitney Strub

They raised the wall, and they will be the one to knock it down: symphonic pop-rock group has been given the freedom to do as they see fit.


World Leader Pretend

Punches

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2005-06-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Naming a band after another group's song or album is a dangerous endeavor, risking relegation to imitator status and the wrath of listeners with preconceived expectations. It works for, say, the Court and Spark, whose name instantly evokes early '70s L.A. country-rock, but who were smart enough to dip across gender lines to preclude any notion of them sounding like Joni Mitchell. On the other hand, I can't be the first Steely Dan fanatic to knit his brow in consternation as excitement quickly dissipated to the strains of Deacon Blue.

But if World Leader Pretend is walking into a minefield on its major-label debut Punches, which follows one earlier independent release, it hardly shows much anxiety -- that of influence, or otherwise. "I'm ready to conquer your kingdom," announces the album's opening lyric, and the only tilt of the hat to R.E.M. for supplying the band's name comes via an oblique allusion in the lyric "I'm gonna turn you over, inside out" late in the game. No jangling Peter Buck guitar arpeggios and no murmured political Stipeisms here. For that matter, little sonic trace of the band's hometown of New Orleans either, besides a vague whiff of ragtime on the piano intro to "New Voices" and a vocal trace of Better Than Ezra on "Dreamdaddy". Instead, World Leader Pretend deals in full-blown symphonic pop-rock, the kind that piles on saxophones, trumpets, glockenspiels, French horns, sleigh bells, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and if not the kitchen sink, then the tin cans in it, literally.

"Bang Theory" announces the band's presence as explosively as promised, with a cascading piano melody that periodically steps aside to let the orchestra howl. Singer, songwriter, and nearly one-man-band Keith Ferguson jumps in with feverish vocals sounding closer to Our Lady Peace than Bright Eyes, though he's not above an occasional overwrought stage whisper of 1999-vintage Oberst. Ferguson wrote and played most of the songs on the album, with two other members contributing mostly backing vocals and percussion, and he's a melody-junkie who needs frequent fixes. His songs are crammed with hook-filled verses and choruses awash in a sea of middle-eights, bridges, and outros that could supply entire songs to other bands. It's like a hyperactive Elephant Six band with major-label money, and it can be splendid. "New Voices" and the title track maintain the sharp melodicism of "Bang Theory", and "The Masses" bursts open with a deep, propulsive piano line straight out of mid-'60s Motown before further exploding into a cacophonous orchestral roar. At times the barrage of sound can fall a bit flat; "Bang Theory" fades out on a melody inexplicably lifted straight from Sugar Ray's trivial '90s radio hit "Someday", and "Lovey Dovey" threatens to collapse into its own black hole of twee (or at least invite Local H's song of the same name to come snarl at it) before it bows out just short of the 2:30 mark. Even then, though, the song proves winning on subsequent listens, when the knowledge of its brevity tempers its sugary sweetness.

As busy as they are, the arrangements on Punches rarely seem excessive. Ferguson's sonic vision is broad, and if he's shooting with a cast of thousands, he's not squandering the extras, as small details like the string section buried near the end of the title track float up on repeat listens. The entire album also displays a percussive imagination extending well beyond the standard rock drum kit. What ultimately prevents the album from reaching its potential heights is a simple dilemma: it loses steam in the final third. After "B.A.D.A.B.O.O.M." offers a surprising guitar rave-up behind a spoken monologue about monsters, Punches descends into bland mushiness. "Into Thin Air" plunks along and vanishes as its title suggests. "A Grammarian Stuck in a Medical Drama" puts a decent song on the rack and stretches it out to an interminable eight minutes, concluding with enough feeble feedback to allow one time to wonder whether the band won any Radiohead-parody contests with the song's name. Finally, "Catch" lets the album wither and die on a barely-audible acoustic note.

The protracted fizzle of Punches prevents it from delivering the knock-out blow the early songs suggest Ferguson is capable of throwing. But World Leader Pretend is young, hungry, and talented. This album is only one round, and I won't be surprised if there's a K.O. on the way.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image