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VHS or Beta
Night on Fire
o question which side of the debate these guys fall on. "Better picture, better sound," all the way.
My first impression was to think, "Look, Brooklyn's churned out yet another ironic 80s-revivalist disco-punk act. Yawn." Then I found out they're from Louisville. My bad. Guess that explains the nine-minute instrumental jam at the end of the record.
I was already sharpening my fangs about thirty seconds into the first track, preparing to unleash a deluge of bile directed at the grating and cynical insincerity of retro sarcasm. But there's something infectious here, by which I cannot help but be seduced. "Tonight we're not alone / We'll pull the sky down by our side". I give. Take me.
What we've got here is a 1980s pop revival that makes electroclash sound positively progressive. You could mistake this for absolutely any English pop act circa, say, 1984, and it would be understandable. It's mostly all there: the one-two-three-four disco beat (not beats, beat), the bass player strutting confidently up and down the dance floor. There aren't really any synths to speak of, just phaser- and delay-laden guitars dripping with sex and hair gel.
The guitars are actually employed to great effect when they're used to create atmosphere rather than establish a melody line. Listen to the reverb-drenched riffs that open "Alive", and you can immediately feel the song's mood. Wistful nostalgia, youthful lust, the open road, all in a few hazy notes.
But most of all it's that voice. Who does this guy remind me of? Robert Smith? Roland Orzabal? The Big Country guy? My wife says he sounds like the guy from Real Life. Remember "Send Me an Angel"? Anybody? No? Suffice to say he sounds like pretty much any male vocalist from the British Isles twenty years ago, save Morrissey. Right down to the accent. But he makes it work, so go with it, baby.
The biggest problem here, other than the obvious one involving tongues and cheeks, is the instrumentals, which really kill the momentum like none since early Teenage Fanclub. After a pair of roof-raisers to open the album, highlighted by an irresistible exhortation to "Put your hands together and we'll light this night / Light this night on fire," the listener is treated to five-plus minutes (one of the album's longer tracks, mind you) of aimless guitar riffs over the same old disco beat. On top of that, they close the record by trying to pull off a rock epic (!) of sorts. It ebbs and flows pleasantly enough I suppose, but it's hard to build and release tension effectively when your drummer's impersonating a drum machine.
Just a touch of vocals can be all you need; "Forever" is almost all instrumental but for a heavily auto-tuned refrain of "Forever / Forever all night long" occasionally drifting through the background. It makes a world of difference by tricking the listener into thinking the song is going somewhere (it isn't, but who cares?). I had heard the song all the way through a few times before I even noticed those are the only vocals.
But whatever. Half the songs here range from pretty good to downright fabulous, and that's a fair ratio. Kill the instrumentals and one or two filler tracks and you've got one of the best EPs of the year. But you can probably say that about a lot of albums. Stop thinking so much and just dance.
Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph
Reviewed on: 2004-10-08
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