Welcome the Night
elcome the Night arrives four years after the release of So Long, Astoria, the album containing the Ataris’s Don Henley cover, and bandleader Kris Roe has spent the intervening time forgetting his punk-pop past and checking off items on the list of requirements for making an Album Of Great Maturity. After placing his band on an extended hiatus, he parted ways with major label Columbia, and subsequently signed to indie Sanctuary. Then, reconfiguring his line-up into an act seven members strong, including a keyboardist and cellist, all that remained for Roe to do was write enough darkly introverted tracks beset by excessively dense soundscapes and turgid melodrama to fill out an album.
Welcome the Night starts off on a good note. “Not Capable of Love” may be lyrically redundant to those who have followed the band’s career, but it’s everything the Ataris’ artistic leap forward should have been. Kicking off with a grinding, distorted bass line, it has all the light and shade that’s lacking on the following tracks and a chorus that manages to be impassioned and emotional without succumbing to melancholic lethargy. Likewise, “Connections Are More Dangerous Than Lies” deploys pounding drums and tightly-wound verses to finely control its tension and dynamics. Roe delivers its refrain, “If you’re not in love, stay where you are” as if he’s shouting at a dance floor, rather than a lover, and the track is all the better for it.
After these high points, though, the results are much more haphazard. The expanded palette occasionally results in the dreamy, melodic pop tunes they aim for, but it’s more often the case that the group’s indistinct instrumentation gets bogged down in a pervasive, purposeless gloom. The odd lighter moments—the bouncy keys introducing “When All Else Fails, It Fails,” the acoustic guitar on “Far from the Last Last Call”—offer welcome respite from the dreary haze that hangs over the record.
On probably the Ataris’ best-loved original, “San Dimas High School Football Rules,” from the 1999 album Blues Skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits, Roe propositioned a crush with a trip to Las Vegas, the kicker being that he’d “Even have Wayne Newton dedicate a song” to her. It was a promise somewhat lacking for a line meant to be loaded with heartfelt sentiment, but the moment was warm and funny and the track was sweetly written. Perhaps Wayne Newton performances are not the stuff of every young girl’s dreams, but if Roe could think that the object of his affections would be impressed by a crooner-endorsed serenade perhaps, we could believe, there was a woman out there who actually would be bowled over by the gesture. The youthful Atari’s lyrics may have been awkward at times, but they seemed natural and as such, were often curiously touching.
Roe is more guarded now, and, sadly, his gauche sincerity has given way to a vague generality that is just as graceless and nowhere near as interesting. Welcome the Night is obsessed with decay and regret, love and sadness, but Roe makes little effort to give context and definition to his emotions—his attempts at meaningful statements have all the wide-eyed earnestness and inflated-importance of the undergraduate or are simply laughable. (On “Cardiff-By-Sea,” for example, he expresses his apparently profound euphoria by singing the word “euphoria” over and over again.)
It’s possible for punk-pop groups to mature into ambitious territory; Brand New proved as much with their excellent 2006 album The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. They did it, though, by taking risks and honing their strengths. On “The Cheyenne Line” Roe sings, “We threw out our convictions, and traded them for substance,” neatly encapsulating his problem: the Ataris have always found more success with conviction than substance, and Welcome the Night contains too little of either.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Bradley
Reviewed on: 2007-04-04