As of this writing, I’m a relative newcomer to the Music Critics’ Guild (an organisation which doesn’t tangibly exist, but rather is a club that all music writers fabricate in their own imaginations as a place where scribes of the sonic can congregate and congratulate one another for their impeccable tastes and impenetrable witticisms in their reviews that no one reads of albums that no one cares about), but right out of the gate, I can tell you one thing I don’t like about it.
I’m talking about press kits. Every band’s got one, and I guess it’s the fault of magazines as much as it is of musicians, as most rags require a bulleted list of sorts detailing biographical information about the band and small blurbs that attempt some sort of description of the music contained therein. Trouble is, few are the artistes who stop there. Nearly all of the press kits that I’ve encountered find overzealous PR people turning what ought to be brief letters of explanation into multiple paragraph dissertations stuffed with congratulatory hyperbole and self-complimentary adjectives that would suggest that one had better to be sure to take one’s heart medication prior to experiencing the life changing record being promoted by said paragraphs. It’s as if they’re saying, “Here, we’re thrilled you’re reviewing our album, but we’ve gone ahead and saved you the trouble of writing it. Could you just publish this overly positive pile of fawning praise instead?”
Of course, I’d never presume to blame any artist for being thoroughly proud of his or her work, but it’s treacherous ground, because it’s a system designed to set the consumer up for mammoth disappointment. Such was the case with the latest record by the Archie Bronson Outfit, Derdang Derdang. I was prepared to like it on principle, simply because the album title is great, the choice to call the band “Archie Bronson Outfit” instead of “Archie Bronson Band” is clever enough to smirk at, and in general I think the name Archie is pretty swell. Even better was when I learned that there was no one named Archie Bronson actually in the band. But alas, the enclosed press kit prepared me for something that just wasn’t there, and the record’s inability to deliver ultimately proved its downfall.
First things first: Derdang Derdang rocks. Does it rock hard? Yes. Loud? Yes. Does it rock well? Sort of. The guitar riffs are monster, and the interplay between the instruments sometimes borders on interesting, but it’s a problem of repetition; The Archie Bronson Outfit are one-trick ponies, which works if it’s a good enough trick, but in this age of Franz Ferdinands and Bloc Parties, Archie and his Outfit are lemmings. This record is something all too familiar, and it’s not strong enough in substance to transcend its static sound.
Any band, regardless of how common their sound may be, can be redeemed by a great singer, which is not something the Archie Bronson Outfit possess in Sam Windett. He too is a one-trick pony, applying the same faux scream-whine-howl on nearly every track, which becomes so monotonous by about track five that the rest of the relatively adequate band becomes inconsequential. The songwriting is technically accomplished in the instrumentation but doesn’t dish out much in terms of substance. Behold this sample from “Dead Funny”:
I am a disco dancer
You always move on too
I am a disco dancer
I’m gonna dance for you.
I am a deep sea diver
You always get down too
I am a deep sea diver
I’m gonna dive down on you.
My friends accuse me of needlessly picking apart lyrics where critical analysis is not warranted, and I’ll be the first to concede that this isn’t music that requires “Desolation Row”-caliber complexity in its words, but I’m just saying, with its other qualities succeeding as nothing more than passable, some words designed to serve as something more than simply an instrumental part for the voice would have been a good tool for elevating Archie above the mediocrity pits. But as it is, the Outfit is a by-numbers reading of music that’s been being read by numbers for a few years now.
I like these guys, I really do. Derdang Derdang is by no means a perfect record, nor is it an essential or even a particularly memorable one, but if you’re not anal about the company you keep then it undeniably serves its purpose. The upside to being a one trick pony is that if you can hook people with one song, chances are they’re going to like the rest of them. The real secret to being a one trick pony is perfecting your trick to the point where you don’t have folks thinking that you can’t do anything else, but rather you’re so good at what you do that they wouldn’t want you to do anything else. I’m not sure that the Archie Bronson Outfit is approaching that level of solidarity yet, but hell, there’s always room for another rock band you can dance to, isn’t there?