Looking back on this week, I’ve not liked much in the albums I’ve reviewed (it’ll get better, Bollocks! reader[s] – I like the new Thermals record but seem to be too lazy to write about it. Maybe next week). So it’s time to get happy and have some fucking fun. And I can think of no better album to exemplify that spirit than Touchdown by Brakes (or Brakesbrakesbrakes outside the U.S. for reasons known only to… well, somebody. I bet Andy Richter knows why). It’s a really poppy album and I’m struck by how many of my favorite albums this year have been so damn poppy they could make your teeth hurt.
That Brakes is dominated by a former member of British Sea Power is pretty impressive to me, largely because, despite the high praise British Sea Power (“BSP”, to their fans. I can’t call ’em that because it’d be too easy for me to convince myself that BSP stands for Bullshit Purveyors or Butt Sex Prostitutes – I said I was gonna talk about an album I like, I never promised I’d be mature about it) has received, they bore me to tears. I wonder if Eamon Hamilton had left the band by the time they recorded whatever shitty album of theirs I heard. Probably.
Hamilton is known for being hyper as hell live, and I can dig that a lot. I like hyper musicians because I never see a hyper guy live and think, “Poor dude’s not having any fun.” If you want an example of what I’m talking about, pay attention to Franz Nicolay the next time you see the Hold Steady live – he’s jumping around behind the keyboards and generally having a good time. Likewise, Jim James rocks so hard live that one time, he fell off the stage, inducing a concussion that caused the cancellation of two My Morning Jacket shows. That’s rocking pretty fucking hard. And if you’re listening to the wrong indie music, you might become convinced that fun is strictly verboten. So if you’re busy digging Interpol, whose albums – I’ve heard – are packaged with a stainless steel stick for you to ram up your butt to achieve the appropriate amount of seriousness while listening, why not check out Brakes and see if we can get that rod outta yer arse?
Touchdown is a straight pop album, but it has a punkish roughness to it (the whole thing feels like it was recorded live in one or two takes, but that may be due to the energetic nature of the tunes) and careens from the thumping drum-pop of opener “Two Shocks” to the awesome, lilting country-rock stomp of “Why Tell the Truth (When It’s Easier to Lie?)”. The whole thing is a breeze at under forty minutes, indicating that Eamon Hamilton knows something a lot of better known pop stars have forgotten: brevity is the soul of pop.
Hamilton’s lyrics can be simplistic and silly at times (on the catchy-as-fuck “Crush On You,” he sings, “Fritz Lang/ Laser Eyes/ Freedom Fries/ Oh, I’ve got a crush on you” which is awesome in its own way but also pretty damn ridiculous) but his delivery, like the band’s music, is so unassuming and infectious that I end up forgiving him his every excess. This is not easy for me to do, as those who know me well are well aware (even in songs I like, if something embarrassing happens, I dwell on it. For instance, in “Helter Skelter,” my favorite Beatles song, there’s a part toward the end where Paul McCartney sings the titular phrase in this shrill, high voice that nowadays reminds me of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Clown from Metalocalypse; you know, the guy who screams, “I DO COCAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!” It’s awful, and every time I hear “Helter Skelter,” I love it until I get to that part and then I’m just sad – sad – that John Lennon let McCartney do that. I wouldn’t let my singer do that on a song. Ever. I’d assault the poor guy first). It helps that songs like “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man)” are catchy enough to overcome lines like, “I was punching the air on this lonely drive/ singing ‘goddamn, I’m happy just to be alive'” which would be trite, O.C.-ready fare in someone else’s hands, but the song is such an honest expression of Hamilton’s happiness that I can’t complain. By the way, is The O.C. still on the air? I don’t care.
But don’t be misled – Hamilton turns out some pretty great lines over the course of Touchdown and many of them come on “Why Tell the Truth”. For instance, “I’m gonna tell you why it is that I drink my days away/ it’s ’cause the beer helps the cigarettes go down” which is going on the list of lines I wish I’d written along with a whole bunch of Joe Strummer, Tom Waits, Craig Finn, and Jeff Tweedy lyrics (and the entirety of Jarvis Cocker’s “Running the World” – all of it).
The other thing that excites me about Brakes is that they exemplify what I would imagine a genre called punk/pop to sound like. Because Touchdown is shot through with punk spirit (which sticks its head up overtly on the deliciously obnoxious “Red Rag”) but never loses its keen pop sensibility. Too many so-called punk/pop bands have precious little in common with punk or pop. Yeah, Blink-182 don’t know more than four chords but punk isn’t just about being a shitty musician – I would offer The Clash as exhibit A for the prosecution here. Mick Jones, even on their first album, was a gifted arranger of music and when they brought Topper Headon into the band, he propelled them even further in terms of musical versatility. Add in Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon’s myriad influences and hunger to challenge boundaries, blend on high for a minute, and pour yourself a sexy musical smoothie known as London Calling. I don’t care who you are or what you think of them, either: Joe Strummer was the real fucking deal when it came to being an awesome punk and the spirit of Brakes’ music is much closer to that spirit than Blink-182 or any of the shitty bands that people are touting as the next Clash. It helps that Eamon Hamilton seems to have no interest in being the next Clash – no one is going to accuse Touchdown of carrying a subversive social message – or any social message – but Hamilton is in love and happy and having fun, and when you can do it with as little pretention as Brakes, I’ll raise a pint to you any day.
Incidentally, I bet you all (both of you) thought I’d totally lost the plot of the review when I started talking about the Clash. I did too for a second there, but here we are talking about the band we came to talk about: the Clash.