Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: The Blackout - Start the Party

One time. I made a mistake. A mistake that had it gone on any further could have put my respectability as a decent lover of good music at risk. That right ladies and gentlemen. I supported The Blackout. For ages as well. I possess their 2009 album The Best in Town, and was gutted to miss them at last year's T in the Park, for goodness sake! I have no idea why! I can't find any reason to return to their music now, for fear that I may just pass out from total boredom. Honestly, it's been many a month now since I last heard them playing. Until now obviously. Because they have a new album out. Called Start the Party. Once again, what was I thinking when I supported these Welsh loons?

As the album opens with the title track that takes the generic rock song formula to a new level, there's something you realise about what the band seem to be doing. They're basically raising their middle finger to everyone who bought their albums before identifying how much better off they were with modern British rock bands like Twin Atlantic and Young Guns and are using the money you gave them to make a crappy party anthem that will have all those previous album buyers and Andrew W.K. looking on disapprovingly asking just what do they think they're doing. It's like the MP expenses scandal of post-hardcore music.

It goes without saying that this sets the tone for the album. The band can pound away as hard as they like and the class-clown dual frontmen performances of Sean Smith and Gavin Butler can continue to roll out in as whiny and wheezy and unnecessarily screechy as possible, but it doesn't mean they're going to leave listeners feeling anything. At least anything but cheated.

Only guitarists James and Matthew Davies and bassist Rhys Lewis seem to be the people who have their heads screwed on for much of the album. Not to put down the efforts of Gareth Lawrence on drums, but it's this three that summon any real substance on the album. And these moments come in the brief musical pulse formed through We Live On and the sense of ambition delivered through Free Yourself.

Ambition seems like a grim word in this context. At a more innocent time, I got into the group's third album, 2011's Hope. The first song on that album was called Ambition is Critical. So, looking back the album wasn't that great, but you could clearly identify that there was a sense of ambition, a desire to climb higher into the scale of respectability of British rock. That fighting spirit has long gone now. I mean, what happened? They delivered an album that while not musically stunning, could be taken seriously, did they think that after that they could just sit back and assume that they were at the top of the game of all modern British rock bands? Did they not look at You Me at Six, Deaf Havana and We Are the Ocean playing at Wembley Arena and think maybe it would be in their best interest to continue their scale of ambition, instead of coming back with limp party songs that at best sound like Black Spiders-lite? That and the most watery thin of indie based ballad writing. The attempts of making feel-good anthems on Keep Singing and You feel appallingly misguided and bore listeners too much for anything else on the album to pick things up. I suppose it's literally the sound of a band giving up. It's about as ambitious as... Puddle of Mudd recording a covers album. Wait, that happened.

So, in many ways, this is a pointless album set only to remind you that once a band gets big enough, the most likely thing they will do is stop trying and make a song filled with mediocre party songs. Party songs that aren't even particularly hard in any way, which I suppose is one of the saddest parts because they're party songs but they wouldn't get the same kind of enthusiastic response if played in a club as the likes of Sum 41 and Limp Bizkit would. Believe me. And that's basically were this band is at now, not wanting to be taken seriously but not making music that would get everyone chanting along in pure delight either. I supported this band before and now I purely feel like I'm being screwed over by them and I don't even care. Once all relevancy is lost they'll have no one to blame for this slip but themselves.

The Blackout's Start the Party is out now via Cooking Vinyl. The band are on tour of the UK now with Sonic Boom Six and will play at Radstock Festival at O2 Academy, Liverpool on 30th March.

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