Camdenites' jaunt to LA fails to spark enough good ideas
The first seeds of doubt come within 0.5 seconds. Before Tribes even play a note of opener ‘Dancehall’, we hear singer Johnny Lloyd’s deflated intonation. “Right,” he sighs, as if psyching himself up for another day of graft down the mines. It’s a brief glimpse of an album that’s characterised by a lack of ideas, effort or, fundamentally, any kind of love for what they’re creating.
Tribes have never been innovative suppliers of Shakespearean eloquence or Radiohead-style boundary-pushing, but their flaws were almost their biggest asset. Their 2012 debut, ‘Baby’, was big and brash and obvious. It was a sneering critic’s worst nightmare. It was called bloody ‘Baby’ for goodness’ sake. But in its everyman anthems and beery epics there was something gloriously celebratory. It set Tribes up as a band that weren’t elitist or needlessly tricksy, and who revelled in the community and spirit of music and prioritised feeling over thinking.
‘Wish To Scream’ certainly doesn’t overthink matters. Almost the entire record sounds as though Tribes are simply ticking boxes, as though they’ve boiled down the ingredients of ‘rock’n’roll songwriting’ to a simple checklist of riffs and song structures and forgotten that it all means nothing unless it actually has a bit of heart.
The quartet abandoned their native Camden to record in the sun’n’surf paradise of LA, and the location shines through in abundance. Where there was grit, now there is hollow gloss – or, perhaps worse, gloss hollowly masquerading as grit. ‘Dancehall’ is a poor man’s ‘Corner Of An English Field’, replacing soaring highs and a genuine emotional backstory with a chugging chorus and clichéd lyrics about a girl who’s like a “gypsy queen”, “a fast car” and “a movie star”. ‘Never Heard Of Graceland’ is full of crescendos and even employs a gospel choir to set the ‘epic’ dial up to 11, but fails to actually say anything. “Standing up to go nowhere/Screaming like you just don’t care”, wails Johnny as if imparting his own ‘I have a dream’ moment. It just doesn’t work. Elsewhere, ‘Street Dancing’ and ‘Looking For Shangri-La’ aim for dusty, torch-song Americana but lack the vital depth, and ‘Sons And Daughters’ has a worrying whiff of Status Quo.
A glimmer of hope arrives in swaggering single ‘How The Other Half Live’ and stripped-down ballad ‘It Never Ends’. The latter comes with an intriguing underwater vocal and provides the sole example of Tribes thinking slightly outside the box. Proof, perhaps, that they do still have something. But the saddest thing about ‘Wish To Scream’ is that for a band loved for their passion, most of it just sounds phoned in. It’s hard not to wonder if we had them wrong all along.