What if I wrote a review that simply repeated one or two lines? What if I wrote a review that simply repeated one or two lines? It would get old really fucking fast, right? It would get old really fucking fast, right? It would…. okay, you get the idea. And now you know what We Were Promised Jetpacks are all about. I’m not even kidding here. Their entire M.O. is having “vocalist” Adam Thompson repeat lines over clanging guitars and crashing drums. Problem is, Thompson doesn’t always bother to stay in tune and he does always bother to be unbearably emo.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, whose name is far cooler than their music, is a Scottish band, you know, like Frightened Rabbit, Franz Ferdinand, and my beloved Delgados. However, the difference between those bands and We Were Promised Jetpacks is that those bands are good. That seems harsh, right? Well, let’s give WWPJ (Who Wants Pearl Jam?) a fair shake, counting up their parts and see if they are greater or less than the sum of said parts. First part: clangy guitars. Not bad in and of themselves, but they’re an oft-beaten dead horse on These Four Walls, the debut album from WWPJ (Willy Wonka Prune Juice). And that’s still not all bad. After all, Frightened Rabbit’s excellent The Midnight Organ Fight was rife with clangy guitars. Second part: crashing drums. Hardly a bad thing. And again, used to great effect by fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit. (See a pattern here?) Okay. Third part: vocals wanna be Bono when they don’t wanna be Scott Hutchinson, the guy from (I think you can guess) Frightened Rabbit. Except Adam Thompson’s vocals, while tolerable in their lower register, are offensive and embarrassing when he tries to reach for the rafters. So that’s a big strike against them. Fourth part: the songwriting. Well, WWPJ (Wilma Wants Peter Jackson) seems to write about three lines per song. And then they let Thompson repeat those lines in his tune-hating, histrionic wail. So that part sucks. And the lines aren’t even clever (you know, like Frightened Rabbit lines. Listen to “Keep Yourself Warm” from The Midnight Organ Fight if you don’t believe me). They’re usually things like “Stay calm” or “your body was black and blue,” and shit that Thompson bellows over and over, really striving to let you know how fucking epic this stuff is.
But it isn’t epic. It’s annoying.
These Four Walls practically begs to be compared to The Midnight Organ Fight, and not just because both WWPJ (We Wear Polyester Jeans) and Frightened Rabbit are from Scotland. I’m not that shallow. If you take away the shitty singing and cringe-inducing songwriting (leaving the drums and guitars) and WWPJ (Winters With Porno Jesus) is Frightened Rabbit. And I realize Frightened Rabbit isn’t well-known on the scale of a band like, I dunno, U2 (another band We Were Promised Jetpacks egregiously aspires to be), but the similarities are striking enough to be infuriating.
I guess. I mean, everyone else seems to love this record. Pitchfork said that opener “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” would be “gratingly emo” if sung by an American band, claiming that having a Scottish accent somehow earns you a free pass for being an emo douchebag. I beg to differ – “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” is gratingly emo no matter who sings it. In fact, many of the songs on These Four Walls are gratingly emo. That doesn’t stop the Onion A.V. Club from teasing their review of this album by calling it an “instant classic.” Have our standards really slipped so far? (Clearly mine haven’t. I do this for you, dear 10-13 [on average] readers.)
These Four Walls manages to hit nearly every one of my sweet spots… my sweet hate spots. First off, I hate guys who strive for drama by wailing all off key and stupid. If you wanna be Mariah Carey, put the dress on and I’ll see you at the drag show. Otherwise, fuck off. This album even features a pointless instrumental called “A Half Built House,” (Pitchfork insists that this clunker “smartly breaks things up”. Whatever drugs the P-fork kids get, I’d like some. Except I’m afraid they’d turn me into a pretentious halfwit), that drones on over three or four chords for nearly three minutes. You know the part at the end of Wilco’s “Poor Places” where shit goes all crazy and the radio lady says, “Yankee… Hotel…Foxtrot” over and over? Yeah, imagine if you dumbed down the musical bits of just that part and then made an entire song out of it. And, while I’m hating (and hating I am – the more I listen to this album, the more it pisses me off. I’ve been through it eight times now in a vain search for something nice to say about it), I’ll point out that WWPJ (Wind-Worn Pewter Jug) fails to build the dramatic tension they’re longing for because lyrically, the songs go absolutely nowhere. On “This is My House, This is My Home,” Thompson snivels on about something happening in the attic. I’m guessing he’s going for some sort of ominous, haunted vibe here, but since he doesn’t bother to color in enough of the song with, you know, words, it’s hard to say. Take note, aspiring songwriters. Here’s how you get shit done in a song: in “Georgia Lee,” Tom Waits tells about a girl who is out playing on her own and is subsequently murdered; and then Mr. Waits pointedly asks why God wasn’t watching when that shit went down. God, who is there for (apparently) every Super Bowl winning quarterback ever, couldn’t be bothered to be there for Georgia Lee. And Tom Waits calls him out for it. See, shit happens in Tom Waits songs and that helps the listener feel the tension or pain or whatever Tom Waits damn well tells ’em to feel. Thompson and WWPJ (We Want Pretzel Jelly) make the Killers’ Brandon Flowers look like… well, Tom Waits. And if I ever praise the (ahem) songwriting of Mr. Flowers again, feel free to put a bullet between my eyes.
So if I could sum up my disdain for this sonic turd, I’d do so thusly: These Four Walls is an album that strikes me as having been calculated to feel big and dramatic, though it is mostly melodramatic and hollow. So if empty melodrama is your thing, why not crank up We Were Promised Jetpacks while you wait for the fucking Vampire Diaries to come on?