Monday, June 20, 2011
Album: We Are the Champions
Rating: ******** (8/10)
Release Date: June 21, 2011
The new Jeff the Brotherhood album is exactly what fans of the band's 2008 debut will be expecting. It polishes the band's three-string psych rock and like their first album, it's a celebration of rock'n'roll excess. The indulgent fun of the album is first announced by an ungodly amount of flange at the beginning of the opening track. I'm not the only person who considers flange top among guitar's guilty pleasures - too cheap a trick to actually use in writing but super fun for enjoyment in one's bedroom. (For those that don't know, flange is an effect pedal that causes a "sweeping" sound without the guitarist actually doing anything.) But Jeff has always wallowed in cheap rock cliches, and in the best possible way. In the face of the wussy anti-rock bias of indie music, someone needs to bring back the wailing solo, the guitar hero posturing, the distortion pedal and the nasty riff. Oh yeah, and over that flange is not one but two guitar solos. At the same time. It's pretty sick.
Although the album does show the band moving towards more sophisticated musicianship, writing and production, they don't really step out of the boundaries they established on Heavy Days, just hone their craft within those boundaries. Some of the riffs even sound like particular riffs off Heavy Days, just reworked and embellished. That's not quite fair, but on the other hand, it's hard not to notice how familiar some of the songs ("Cool Out," "Mellow Out") sound.
The band does amp up their psychedelic side with songs like "Diamond Way," "Stay Up Late" and most of all, "Health and Strength," complete with Beatles-style sitar and high vocal wails. This may be a new dimension for the band, but it's such a 60's throwback that it doesn't really feel like an expansion. To the band's credit, though, they don't opt for a 60's vibe in the processing of their sound, using modern digital effects and beefy 90's guitar tones. As a result, as much as they consciously recall the 60's, their recordings wouldn't be mistaken for actual records from the time. Although they do seek a return to a time of simpler fun, Jeff aren't nostalgic in the sappy way of so many indie bands in the last decade and they aren't afraid to sound modern. They also aren't afraid to rock.
And in terms of rock, there's plenty here. Those thirsting for more ditties by the King of the Riff (Jeff's Jake Orrall) won't be disappointed by Champions, especially if they listen all the way through. Some of the early songs have the band tripping over their own ideas by adding too many complications to their ultra-simple formula. "Cool Out" and "Shredder" are rad tunes, but the album doesn't fully take off until "Ripper," one of the few songs that beats the raw power of the band's debut. Like the original raw power masters, the Stooges, Jeff don't shy away from the grittiest, simplest primal rock'n'roll urges - but unlike the Stooges, there's nothing anguished about Jeff. They're about raw fun.
Unfortunately, the band brings back one rock cliche we could all do without on their ambiguously misogynistic "Wastoid Girl." I know that's not what the band's about, but it's still a bad move on their part.
That track aside, Champions is an enjoyable listen. For folks new to the band, I'd probably recommend Heavy Days. It's got more weak links but its best tracks still pack more punch than almost anything on the new record. Still, it's a toss-up and fans will find lots to love about the new disc - as long as they don't have the audacity to expect something new.