Label: Canvasback Music
The Orwells self-released their debut album Oh! Well at the tender age(s) of 16, and followed it up with a series of increasingly bigger triumphs. 2012’s Remember When was released by popular indie label Autumn Tone, which was followed up by the Other Voices and Who Needs You EPs, featuring production work by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio. After spending a large portion of 2014 touring with The Arctic Monkeys, the group made an appearance on David Letterman. On June 3rd they will release Disgraceland, their debut for Atlantic.
For most listeners, the Letterman appearance is the first time The Orwells appeared on their radar. At the end of the performance, Letterman’s keyboardist Paul Shaffer starts egging the band on, asking them to play another song, and – when they refuse – leads the late night band into an impromptu cover of “Who Needs You”, the Disgraceland single they had just performed. Shaffer’s joke highlights the best and worst aspects of the album: its simplicity. Tracks like “The Righteous One” and the Pixies-esque “Gotta Get Down” are endlessly hooky, and would serve as much better singles than “Who Needs You”.
Save for a brief breakdown, “Who Needs You” is nearly 3 minutes of the same tired chord progression. Frontman Mario Cuomo belts out anti war nonsequiturs that sound cribbed from some anonymous Vietnam-era outfit. Lines like “you better burn that flag, cause it ain’t against the law” and “you better join the army / I said, no thank you, dear ol’ Uncle Sam”, while important sentiments for the current generation to consider, fall flat. All said, compliments are due for trying to write a “Fortunate Son” for the next generation of draft dodgers.
Unfortunately, these are some of the more thoughtful lyrics that Cuomo manages to conjure up. Other attempts at dumb rock-and-roll fun come across as insincere, even misogynistic. Take the lyrics from the opening song, “Southern Comfort”: “I can’t walk, and I can’t dance, gimme a smile and then take off your pants…eyes on the prize, eyes on her thighs”. The song continues, and Cuomo, or his character, leer at girls. There are a number of great bands that have managed to successfully approach this type of sleaze with a knowing wink (see: Liquor Store’s great 2013 release In The Garden), but these lyrics come across as just plain creepy.
When it works, Disgraceland is a fun rock record that doesn’t require too much thought on the listener’s part. With age comes wisdow, and there are many elements of promise on this album. Let’s all watch and see what Cuomo and crew do next.