June 11, 2008
6 / 10
Miles Kane’s bandmates must wonder whether to bless or curse their frontman’s involvement with Alex Turner. While The Last Shadow Puppets project has swamped their young band in more attention than if they’d scaled Big Ben in Womble costumes, they might also have cause to wish he’d hung onto a few of his best ideas for them.
‘The Age Of The Understatement’ carefully balanced Kane’s love of melodramatic, string-swept ‘60s chamber-pop with the rough-edged, chunky bluster of post-Arctics indie. The Rascals’ own debut, on the other hand, for all the Wirral three-piece’s professed darkness and strangeness, is more pragmatic than dramatic. As with many of the current crop of everyman guitar bands (The Pigeons, The Twang, The Enemy), there’s nothing that exciting either, nothing to really grasp on to and love.
All the right references and some sonic tricks are present and correct too, from the galloping psychobilly bassline of ‘Does Your Husband Know You Are On The Run’ to the Johnny Kidd & The Pirates slink and niggling guitar of ‘I’d Be Lying to You’. These touches seem more like a decoration or diversions, though, from a fairly standard, rollicking indie-rock that sounds all too familiar, They owe more to the Monkeys than a leg-up in terms of column inches, after all; it was a support tour with the then-bright young hopes that inspired them to snuff The Little Flames and form The Rascals, and there’s a clear debt in their strutting basslines and sarky social observation (“People-watching is one of my favourite ways to pass the time” notes Kane on, er, ‘People Watching’).
In light of this, opening with ‘Rascalize’ a brass-necked manifesto that leans heavily on The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, seems less than wise, Kane boasting, “All aboard for the adventure”.
In truth they’re closer to Gerry & The Pacemakers than the Fab father of weird-pop, or, in more modern terms, more The Zutons than The Coral. The latter is a name they’ll get sick of hearing, most often in conjunction with the words “poor” and “man’s” as The Rascals lack the inherent drive towards the odd of Skelly and co – their carefully placed peculiarities are more knowing allusion than genuine sonic exploration. They’re actually at their best when most direct and unaffected, as on the genuinely thrilling grungey snarl of ‘I’ll Give You Sympathy’. One musical influence that’s noticeably less present is Kane’s beloved Scott Walker; yes, there’s intrigue-laden lyrical tableau of ‘Bond Girl’ but you can’t imagine the man himself giving them more than a few seconds before breaking the CD and combining the shards with squirrel intestines to create some crazy new instrument. Perhaps less time spent constructing solid, unremarkable riffs and more spent testing out the percussive qualities of chunks of dead rodent à la Scott might make this album actually exciting. As it is, it’s just adequate. Welcome to the age of the underwhelm-ment.
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