23 August 2016

Arkells - Morning Report

A brief cover roulette before I head towards some submissions and Mercury Music Prize reviews; the image above these words is the album cover for the fourth album by Canadian indie rock act the Arkells.  Not much has been heard about them in the UK if I am honest, so the next bit of information is what I have found out about them on Wikipedia (oh, that tower of truth at times).  Formed in 2006 in Hamilton, Ontario and have released four albums and two EP’s, won three Juno awards (Canadian version of the Grammy’s/Brit Awards for point of reference) and have done very well for themselves.  But for me, especially on this series, all I am bothered first and foremost is the cover.  The cover is a cartoon image of a newspaper where the man if fragmenting, it is a strong image that catches the eye straight away.  But I also have to review the music, which is what I am going to start off now….

Starting the album is “Drake’s Dad”, a song about a Spring Vacation that goes wild and the party is running wild.  It is done in a Killers/gospel style, a little bit of Southern American soul added to the song and it mentions Nashville & Tennessee a lot as well.   It is a slow descent into a party style and everyone is having a good time, but I feel like I have heard this all before.  This is a song for the party generation and for people who miss Mr. Flowers and co.  Next is “Private School” which is a song about the kids who are from private schools and the inability to reach out those people.  It has another dose of Killers/Southern rock sounding noise, with a good little hook to the chorus but the verses are a little weak to be honest.  It is trying to sound hip and it sounds a little bit like a middle age, white father who has been dared to rap at a karaoke bar; it is not quite right and sort of damages any good that would have come out of the song.  The third song “My Heart’s Always Yours” which sounds so much like the Killers that Brandon Flowers is searching his copyright ledger, just to see if his band is owed money.  It is a good tribute, nothing wrong with the song at all in that regard as it is one of the best songs on the album, partially due to the fact it does not sound like a college boy trying to justify his party action; but there is nothing original to the song, it just passes you by and there is nothing sticking once it has finished.  “Savannah” might as well be called “Spaceman 2”, from the keyboard riff being reversed, the pace of the song and the style of the lyrics – it is another song that could have been taken from the Killers album ‘Day & Age’.  It is all about the story of a relationship with a lady, how it falls and rises and car crash that is going to occur.  I could go over the same ground I have with the first three songs, but that would be over kill – a third of the album done, nothing here that is not inspired by The Killers.

The next song “Passenger Seat” almost bucks this trend; it is a slow piano/synth number that is more reflective than anything that has preceded it.  A song about missing a companion/lover/partner in crime and the tricks/situations, you can hear the sorrow imbedded into the song as the relationship seems to have hit a wall that neither person is prepared to overcome and it the ending has arrived.  The emotional upheaval and heart-breaking narrative is impressive, the song itself is fragile and beautiful which showcases something different to what has passed beforehand.  “Making Due” returns to tribute town, with a song that in places mixes ‘Sam Town’-era Killers – especially the songs “When You Were Young” and “Read My Mind”.  However, I cannot fault the performance on this one as it is a catchy song with a song that deals with the return of a former friend/lover who wants to return and is not helping their own cause the way they acted on the way out of the door in the first place – i.e. acting like a bit of a shit.  But I love the style of the song, the hook at the end is really good, if not original.  “Round And Round” is the seventh song of the album and it starts off with an acoustic guitar, a sense of self-deprecation and ironic barbed verses to give their fans a sense of joy and identification.  Personally, for me it begins interesting and then ends like a poor version of a Country Rock song, without any irony or style and it is the poorest song on this album.  So I will move swiftly onto the next song…... it is called “Hung Up” and it is all about being kept out and not being able to have the fun that you want to.  Once more, much like “Round And Round” it starts of good then it sorts of falls over itself and it is vanilla thunder once more.  So once again, I will state this one is not for me and then it is onwards to the next song.

“Come Back Home” is the ninth song of the album, a song about wanting to return to a lover and wanting everything to be back to how it was before when it was all fun.  Much like the slower, melodic numbers on this album, this is showing where the band is at their best.  When they are not acting like the biggest boys on the block, they can craft a descent song and it sounds alright; but it is still a little bit by the numbers if I am honest, a decent (if uneventful) song once more from this band.  “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete)” is the next song which deals with bad luck, high hopes and dreams that are being washed out with the rain; it has a positive mindset in places, some negativity in others and musically, it is more Toploader than Killers this time.  It is filler, it might be a cherished song by the band, but it is much like Train, the aforementioned Toploader and Maroon 5 – it is designed for radio and for the middle of the afternoon at that.  The penultimate song of this album is called “And Then Some” and it is much the same once more, it is not as if I can fault it for sound under-produced – I am sure that it has been produced to within an inch of its life – but it is another song that is just passing me by.  It does not have an excitement factor, a little spark that will say to my soul “yes, I want to play this song more often”; it is just below average and the party is in another room, which is briefly mentioned in the song.  “Hangs The Moon” ends the album on a short and sombre number, minimal synth, haunted words and it is all about wanting to communicate and discuss the situation.  This is a strange, weird and positive way to end this album, it is one of the tracks on the album that I have time for as it is showing that the boy is not just a bragger, he has some emotion in the mix and the music matches the mood.  It is a heartbreaker and ends this album on a surprisingly strong note to be honest.

You are probably already under the impression that I am not a fan of this album, which is sadly the correct assumption in the case of the ‘Morning Report’.  I had no idea what to expect beforehand, having listened to it I doubt if I will be willing to look further into the Arkells past or future.  The issue I have with the album is not to energy, it is not due to style (I like the Killers as much as the next man; well, maybe not as much as these guys), it is not down to performance – it is down to the bland feeling that drips off the album when there is a hint of testosterone/frat boy ‘high-school’ jock shite, or the way that they are playing to a market and aiming for a style through profit is not the most original idea either.  Not the worst thing I have ever heard, but nowhere near the most average thing I have heard – to quote Ben Folds, Vanilla Thunder……

4 out of ten – It is alright, but still……

Top track – Making Due

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