Free In The Streets
sshole interviews aside, A.R.E. Weapons used to be a bit like the dumb little brother you'd drag around with you only half because you couldn't get him to go away; even if you'd never admit it, he was kind of cute. Anyone willing to write and sing the words, “People think you're a spaz / Just because you're a spaz / So what? Spaz on, spaz!” (from the brilliantly, vacantly feel-good “Don't Be Scared”) is clearly not wholly irredeemable. There were a few bright spots on their debut, chief among them their single “Street Gang,” which could and should have played over the credits of either incarnation of The Warriors, and of course “Bad News”—how can you even pretend to be evil when you're singing about Walter Matthau's favourite little league team? And how can you hate “electroclash” (or whatever) poseurs who proudly claim membership on that team? But when they start their follow-up with a song complaining about not being allowed to cry (no, really), you know that any charm they may have had has deserted them—they're more serious and hence, less important this time out.
If Art Brut replaced the Buzzcocks/the Fall influence and general Britishness with Suicide/the Stooges and NYC pretentiousness/slumming, you'd have something at least close to A.R.E. Weapons, or at least you would have in 2003. Unfortunately their music has, ahem, “matured” a bit, and as you'd expect, music that once got by on sounds that weren't lo-fi so much as just crappy does poorly by taking a half-step toward something more polished. The same holds for the lyrics; they're kind of sensitive now (songs about love! Oh no!), part of the time, but with even more macho posturing and pointless attitude for the rest. “Doghouse” is far too interminable—complete with threats to “wild out”—to only be 3:13, and “Reggie” even drags the ol' “bottle in front of me / Frontal lobotomy” chestnut from the scrap heap.
Their whole breathless Rumble/“Street Gang” shtick is sadly not one of the elements dropped, and songs like “Who Rules The Wasteland?” manage the tricky feat of failing to be compelling as either social allegory for modern America or schlocky Mad Max-style post-apocalypse pulp. Meanwhile the tedious dimestore nihilism/apathy of “Last Cigarette” and totally odious sexual threats of “Be Nice” only add new dimensions to Free In The Streets' unpleasantness. By the time “F.K.F.” starts like a bad case of deja vu (hasn't this song been on the album already?), any goodwill A.R.E. Weapons had previous established has been persuasively obliterated.
The brainless, happy enthusiasm of “Brand New Walking Blues” and “In The Night” slightly redeem the end of the album, but ultimately Free In The Streets really is the album their detractors claim A.R.E. Weapons made the first time around. It's hard to get upset over most of it (“Be Nice” aside) the way some did in the past; sub-par sleaze rock needs to be able to really grab you to be horrible, and this just sort of limps along. Even more so than normal, it would be ridiculous (in the Vonnegutian “knight attacking a creampuff” sense) to take serious umbrage at the low uniform quality of this music, because not only does it not break your leg or pick your pocket, it's not really worthy of the response. A.R.E. Weapons might be worth a couple of bucks out of your local bargain bin and a quick reassessment for its giddily shoddy thrills, but this one deserves to be forgotten comprehensively by all involved, including the listener.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-01-11