Band of Skulls 'Sweet Sour'Band of Skulls
Band of Skulls hit a surprise nerve with 2009’s Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, a crunchy revisiting of bluesy garage and classic rock with some alt-rock edges. Three years later, the English trio of singer-guitarist Russell Marsden, singer-bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward have reunited with producer Ian Davenport (Supergrass, Badly Drawn Boy) and stuck to a broadly accessible combination of fuzzy throwback riffs and slow, sensitive ballads.
In fact, Sweet Sour lives up to its title by reliably swinging back and forth from big rockers to solemn, heart-on-sleeve sentiment. That doesn’t do much for its momentum, although a quick shuffling of the sequencing will remedy that. What’s harder to overcome is the fact that these songs are so meat-and-potatoes that every element feels stock. Rather than take risks, Band of Skulls pass off the quiet-loud yin and yang of their sound as the dynamism, and variety they lack.
That’s not to damn this record altogether. It does exactly what it sets out to, with few weak links if you don’t mind lyrics built on bland metaphors. This isn’t rocket science: ‘You’re Not Pretty But You’ve Got It Goin’ On’ is as one-note as you’d think, and the power-trio muscle flexing and grunge flashbacks of ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’ suffer from that corny title refrain. ‘Navigate’ tries out folky balladry, and ‘Lay My Head Down’ combines the band’s raucous and romantic sides. But ‘Bruises’ sounds like anonymous ’90s alt-rock, and the sturdier ‘Wanderluster’ and ‘Lies’ seem to be recycling the same few elements.
So it’s a split decision. I admire Band of Skulls’ clear reverence for the guitar, and their songwriting is tangible and uncomplicated. But they don’t do much to distinguish themselves besides rocking out once in a while. In its favour, Sweet Sour stands at a curt, controlled 40 minutes. However innocuous.
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