Label: Third Man
To be perfectly honest, I could never get interested in either the Raconteurs or the Dead Weather. Admittedly not a Jack White devotee, the Raconteurs for me always sounded about as vital and rockin’ as whatever last Foo Fighters single Dave Grohl bequeathed upon modern rock radio. The Dead Weather, on the other hand, always struck me as the kind of faux-heavy rock band listened to by those for those with the opinion that Led Zeppelin’s catalog is old and grotty. Regardless, I approached the cheekily titled **** with curious ears, since the aforementioned band connections were the total extent of what I knew about the original musical playing field of bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. The band is anything but green themselves; this is the Greenhornes’ fourth full-length, and Lawrence and Keeler’s first release with singer/guitarist Craig Fox since 2005’s East Grand Blues EP.
It’d surprise me if there were much of a crossover audience between those White-addled bands and the kind of material showcased on ****. The Greenhornes deal – expertly – in the kind of British Invasion-inspired power pop that a band like Los Angeles’ Nerves created the mold for; the Greenhornes are a rougher, harder-rocking simulacrum of that group’s ’60s-reverent sound, itself already a Xerox. ****, then, is full of cuts that stand just a little bit taller than the kind of songs you’d find in the Paisley Underground diversions of the oft-tiresome Children of Nuggets set, a style that might be a little too dry for the kids filling their iPods between MGMT releases.
Opener “Saying Goodbye” has an irrepressible verse melody with a chorus hook that sounds like it should be a cover of the sort of band record collectors mythologize (the Birds, Downliners Sect), yet has more of a bite than most of those bands aping the originals on the Children set could muster. “Underestimator” is cut from this same rock ‘n’ roll cloth, while “Better Off Without It” sports an organ line that would make Benmont Tench happy and “Cave Drawings” treads the kind of spooky Major Tom quiet/psych-freakout territory that England’s Coral excel at.
“Need Your Love” nicely gets its freakbeat on with the most savage guitar distortion heard on ****, though from “My Sparrow” through the rest of the record, the songs don’t have much to get them out of that simulacrum territory. Both “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Get Me Out of Here” both employ the sort of Anglocentric, music hall-leanings that sound welcome coming from an old Zombies record, yet sound like stiff recitals from an American band and “Go Tell Henry” may as well be labeled “Intermission.” Though somewhat front-loaded, **** is a – heaven forbid – fun record, recommended to Nuggets-obsessives that don’t mind their kaleidoscopic thrills tempered by a more modern approach.
by Chris Middleman
Key Tracks: Saying Goodbye]