April 27, 2004
The Zutons : Who Killed The Zutons?
Skronking voodoo soul monster that aims to lay waste to Liverpool's retro bores, and mostly succeeds...
7 / 10
Scousers beware! A dark creature stalks the alleyways and Caverns of your home town. By day this beast masquerades as the loveable music obsessive Dave McCabe but when the witching hour strikes he becomes a The Zutons, waiting in corners of the city's nightclubs with his army of freaks, ready to sink his fangs into anyone daring to speak bollocks about vintage recording equipment.
Eighteen months after The Zutons' first single landed, this debut LP arrives with a point to prove. Because while the oddball five-piece are clearly in love with their city's musical heritage, they're also desperate to shake free from it. And by raising 'Who Killed The Zutons?' on a strict diet of sax, drugs and rock'n'soul, they're declaring war on bollocks retro rock, ordering every '60s-obsessed dullard to be strapped to a pyre of flaming Stands CDs.
It's not hard to identify with their anger. For a city that's recently spewed up icy electronica (Ladytron), spooky sea shanties (Coral) and the innovative, sample-splicing future-hop of 'The Grey Album' (by some '60s group your uncle reckons were boss), Liverpool bands get a bad rep as guitar-obsessed stoners. The Zutons want to make amends. They've already transformed their live shows into handclap-heavy, groove-busting parties in the spirit of [/a]; now it's time to deliver the goods on record.
Kickstarting proceedings with the amphet-charged spaghetti western riff of 'Zuton Fever', they soon get to work deconstructing the myth that Mersey bands spend their days giggling about, like, cosmic shit when they should be writing songs. 'Who Killed The Zutons?' is no weed-addled indulgence - it's a paranoia-fuelled stomper stirring up a party edgier than the last time Jack and Jason both showed up at NME's place for fondue. 'Pressure Point' builds from an unhinged tribal warble into a screeching vocal meltdown, whereas 'Zuton Fever' finds Dave enthusing about epidemics, fevers and bones in his quest to give you the shits. 'Havana Gang Brawl' begins by ripping off [a]Zombies but climaxes
with the sound of Madness chasing Benny Hill. Most intense of all is 'Dirty Dancehall', all rickety floorboards and B-movie poetry, celebrating Dave's love/hate relationship with his home city. "This is just a night in the city of culture/But everyone's whacked and looks like vultures", he trembles
like a man who spends his nights sticking pins
in a Lee Mavers voodoo doll. The secret weapon throughout all this is Abi Harding's demented sax squeals, injecting The Fear into us like no amount of dodgy weed can.
The good news for those of a nervous disposition is that it's not all edge-of-the-seat stuff. When Dave's not squawking about zombies he's crooning dreamy ballads. 'Confusion' is sweetened with Stax-style horns and, erm, a bicycle hooter, whereas 'Railroad' escapes the realm of Mid-Album Insignificance with a gorgeous singalong soul refrain.
So what stops 'Who Killed The Zutons?' from being a truly great record? Quite simply, the niggling fact that they haven't quite laid down the sound that obviously bounces inside their brains. The Zutons noble ambition is to deliver a sonic soul collision of Dexys Midnight Runners' righteous party noise and Jimi Hendrix's voodoo intensity, but occasionally it just doesn't happen. 'Nightmare Part II' proves the ancient rule that you should never replace a tune with a bouncy ball noise, while 'You Will You Won't' takes the amp-meltdown of 'Crosstown Traffic' and doesn't know what to do with it other than stomp its feet. Of course, these same tracks sound incredible live. The Zutons were the only band to win over the entire crowd on last month's NME Brit Pack tour, but on record the atmosphere never quite reaches boiling point.
But hey, that this record only falls short of the band's potential (rather than their peers') proves they could be one of Britain's most important new bands. It's a fine debut that hints at a finer future - and for their determined attempts to twist something new out of retro influences, we salute them. With 'Who Killed The Zutons?', the band should no longer feel overshadowed by their city's musical legends. Or perhaps they should. After all, The Zutons are creatures who thrive on shadows. And this debut finds them lurking, waiting to pounce.
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