Stuck On Nothing
When watching Free Energy’s network television debut on “The Late Show With David Letterman” a few months back, it was easy to imagine a nation of baby-boomers thinking the same thing as they reached for their remotes: “I wonder if Jay’s still on?” Here, after all, were five lanky, young kids barely into their twenties with long hair, skinny jeans and ironic mustaches, opening up with cowbell and Van Halen-style guitar-tapping. Those that didn’t change the channel, however, probably heard something not unlike the music of their own youth – Thin Lizzy, Kiss, Bachman Turner Overdrive and other classic rock-radio staples, reinterpreted by hipsters.
There will likely be few better party records this summer than Stuck On Nothing, Free Energy’s debut; ironically, their chief competition may come from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, who produced the disc. Stuck is the kind of record that sounds exponentially better the drunker you are and the louder its played, as though it were crafted chiefly for use at barbecues and beer-bashes.
Sharing their moniker with their lead track, the band establishes what it’s all about from the outset – feelin’ good, livin’ in the moment and rocking. “Dream City” and “Bang Pop” follow, keeping up the pattern of hot licks and sing-along-worthy anthems. But things go downhill from there, and that initial burst of energy proves difficult to sustain over the course of an LP. The record lags throughout much of its middle third, muddling through tracks that, though they don’t drastically depart from the established formula, lack the verve and personality of some of the disc’s opening salvo. Things pick up toward again with “Light Love” and “Hope Child,” a pair deeply indebted to BTO, and though closer “Wild Winds” falls flat as a would-be power-ballad, lacking the heft and over-the-top theatrics to really make it memorable, the album still comes out on a strong note.
After their SXSW performance, the New York Times called the band “courageously sleazy” and “gloriously dumb,” and that’s both an accurate descriptor and one of the best compliments the band could get, as their rawk hearkens back to a simpler kind of bar band that too often gets maligned. The catch is that it’s tough to be sure how much credit to give to James Murphy and how much to give to the band. Murphy is an astute enough craftsman to mold the group into just about any sound he wished for, so it may take until album No. 2 to really see what Free Energy are made of.
In the meantime, despite its faults, there ain’t much wrong with Stuck On Nothing and you could do worse for a party starter this summer.