|Photo by: Prefixmag|
Key tracks: "Devil Takes Care Of His Own," "You're Not Pretty But You've Got It Goin' On"
Band of Skulls follow the rock and roll handbook pretty well. They have a kick-ass name, they wear leather jackets and cool hats, and they stick to the four main food groups: guitar, drums, bass and attitude.
But, as the Southampton trio proved on their 2009 debut Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, they are also masters of the melodic and can write a catchy hook like nobody’s business. Their unavoidable “I Know What I Am” appeared everywhere from Gossip Girl to a Swatch commercial, and that pop sensibility does not disappear from the group's second album Sweet Sour, but it is accompanied by just the right amount of rock credibility.
With Russel Marsden on lead vocals and guitar, Emma Richardson on bass and shared vocal duties, and Matt Hayward on drums, Band of Skulls reinvigorate the spirit of a deadbeat genre: the loud, gritty, guitar-driven rock music whose seat is currently being kept warm by The Black Keys and The Kills.
Sweet Sour, whose title track alone is a good enough reason to resurrect Guitar Hero, is a mostly-faithful testament to the way good rock songs should be played: loud and rough.
The irresistible first single “Devil Takes Care Of His Own”–that for just a moment recalls The White Stripes’ “Ball And Biscuit”–has Band of Skulls running on all cylinders: bristly guitar, successfully aggressive drumming and the complementary dual-vocal stylings of Marsden and Richardson. It's every bit as delicious as their previous songs, but rocks even harder.
Additional standout track “You’re Not Pretty But You’ve Got It Goin’ On” sounds like it came straight out of Josh Homme’s studio at Rancho de la Luna with its breakneck beat and dark but sweetly coy nonsensical refrain: “You’re tone deaf, but you’re singing a song / You’re feeling lost, but you know where you’re from / You’re not pretty, but you’ve got in goin’ on.”
Band of Skulls’ entire catalog should be full of songs like Sweet Sour’s key tracks, but unfortunately the new album has the same infuriating habit as the last one, which is that it’s bogged down by ballads.
Admittedly, “Lay My Head Down” proves itself worthy of its five-and-a-half-minute running time because it turns epic at the upshot, and “Navigate” is more intricate and sophisticated than the respective slow songs on Doll Face, but there is no questioning that “Hometowns” and “Close To Nowhere” could be completely nixed from the album with no remorse. Four down-tempo songs on a ten-track album is not an acceptable ratio for a rock band. Someone needs to circulate that memo.
If Band of Skulls would embrace their inner AC/DC and quit singing like the xx at a slightly higher volume, they would really be on to something. Or, at least, they would allow the guitar-rock guzzlers to enjoy an entire album instead of just listening to “Devil Takes Care of His Own” on repeat for days. Although that's still not a bad idea.
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