Invitation is a solid rock ‘n’ roll record
Filthy Friends is a supergroup nothing short of superb. The band of Pacific Northwestern punk rock powerhouses is led by Sleater-Kinney vocalist Corin Tucker and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who are joined by guitarist Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks, King Crimson drummer Bill Rieflin and bassist Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5. Embodying 30 years of musical experience as the faces of alternative music at the end of the millennium, this group of likeminded individuals has welcomed listeners into their raucous domain on their debut record, Invitation.
Invitation is a solid rock ‘n’ roll record. Considering the vast experience of every member of Filthy Friends, each song conveys that these people know what they are doing, with squeaky-clean guitar riffs and impeccable timing from beginning to end. There’s nothing to complain about, but the record is also devoid of any surprises.
Not surprisingly, Filthy Friends draw inspiration from late-‘80s, early-‘90s alternative rock, stemming from that world themselves. Hints of the Pixies show up on the haunting “Second Life” and a drop of Television’s swirling guitars appear on “No Forgotten Son.” Naturally, the band’s influences comes from its members own musical projects. The power of R.E.M.’s impact on the band is almost too obvious at times, but considering that Rieflin and McCaughey have also performed as unofficial members of R.E.M., it might have been unavoidable. The guitar intro and Tucker’s stabbing staccato vocals on “Windmill” would fit right in on Sleater-Kinney’s One Beat.
What’s missing from Invitation is the attitude and anger that defined many of the alternative/college rock bands that inform this supergroup. It’s possible for rock to be a little too clean, and this record feels like its members never truly got their hands dirty. Sometimes you just want a guitar solo to go on for a little too long, or a sarcastic lyric to make you gasp. Tucker’s vocals often feel drowned in the tight and timely instrumentation, begging to let out her aching and reckless vibrato.
Although she was the lead singer of one of the most iconic riot-grrrl bands, Tucker has written lyrics here that lack the rebellious edge we desperately need in 2017. The most outwardly political song on the record, opener “Despierta” is simply not angry enough. The track was released for the 30 Days, 30 Songs project leading up to the November 2016 election, and with the opening chorus line, “Holding onto the past won’t make it repeat,” it is clearly about a certain someone trying to make this country great, “again.” Although lyrics like “You ruled, you made decisions without thinking of our needs/ You and all your friends feasted while we fought to make ends meet” are biting and honest, it does not translate to the “Fuck You” that riot-grrrl fans would expect.
The Filthy Friends are musicians who make rock political, yet their album’s political centerpiece doesn’t make much of an impact. Maybe this is an effect of maturity, but responding to the current president in a sophisticated manner at this point is too little, too late. Perhaps that’s what’s wrong with this Invitation.