Holding on to Hand Grenades
hey’ll take your soul if you let them / But don’t you / Let them.” That has to be one of my favorite lyrical phrases, bless my 70s soft-spot heart. And though it may seem strange to relate Carole King to a Boston punk/rock band, and stranger still, to a band named the Beatings—when all is universal in good songs, and I am strange, it works here. Holding on to Hand Grenades speaks of that common struggle—dealing with a chilly world that seems far too bent on scratching the blue from our skies. And though at times we are helpless to find the streaks of black that numb hands leave behind, it’s about resisting the descent into a colorless place. For the Beatings, this resistance emerges less in acoustic folksy murmurs and way more into balls-out, bad-ass screaming. But that’s different strokes, I guess.
To start, “A Responsible Person” paints the everyday burdens that bear weight on our shoulders, yet in its melodic energy, assumes these clouds aren’t so heavy they can’t be lifted: “I’m gonna put in my time / tomorrow / I’m gonna make up my mind / tomorrow / and put myself together / if I can.” Though we get to a place where we feel up and ready for change, sometimes a breath or two is necessary. More often still, it seems all too easy to place these hopes within an infinite number of “tomorrows.” But as the Beatings bring to mind, it’s worth the troubling shot.
True, sometimes what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger—but what about when it is killing you? As for that idea, “This City Is Killing me” really hits home. At the end of beat-by-the city phrases, we get electric chair-elicited bursts of “Fight ! Fight! Fight!” that sound as if the singer (there are three of them, so your guess is as good as mine) were whipping his throat at the end of a rubber band. In a word: Amazing. Pure fed-up feeling always does well to get the meaning across, and the Beatings have plenty of it.
At points throughout the album, the vocals can get Interpol-ish, but that’s just a song or two up for skips. As for the rest, things maintain an interesting momentum. For bonus pleasure, there are a few instrumental interludes thrown into the batch: “Don’t Flake Now” has to be the quintessential neurotic phrase we hopefuls spin in our heads, especially when we find someone as charming as these bright acoustic strings and twinkly pianos. It’s somewhat of an unexpected, blissful minute of quiet beauty among the chaos. (I knew they had a little Carole in ‘em.)
“Remedial Math Rock” brings up the first in-your-silly-face, unrelenting song on the album, and its energy is more than welcomed. This is definitely the Beatings at their best. “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” has a weirder, noir-ish vibe, with inserts of girlish whispers from bassist Erin Dalbec that call to mind French prostitutes cooing into rotary phones. While that has its perks, the Beatings are far better when they ante up the psychosis, and their songs come to maddening life. Maybe not so mad at life, just a bit perturbed enough to scream really fucking loud about it.
Reviewed by: Sue Bell
Reviewed on: 2006-01-13