Hallelujah Rock N' Rollah
Bad Afro Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Chris Harlow
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/2004
We've all seen it before.
A music scene breaks, a couple of bands get hyped to death and forever etched into the public's mind, and a flood of similar but largely unheralded bands are left to fight it out amongst themselves to stay on the music industry radar. Most of these bands naturally wash out of perception after their initial release for reasons generally no more complex than they were never as good as their labels originally wanted them to be. So when I think of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan coining the phrase "irrational exuberance" a few years ago, I can't help but prop him for unintentionally describing this fallout as the "throw it against the wall and let's see what sticks" mentality that the major labels are known to implore is actually happening once again.
The scene I'm describing is the garage rock revival of 2001 to present which has unearthed a bevy of noun bands highlighted by the Hives, the White Stripes, and the Strokes. Another band that should not only be on this list, but actually top it, is Finland's Flaming Sideburns and I'm here to tell you why.
It all starts at the top. Mixing a silky smooth Argentinean vocalist, Eduardo "Speedo" Martinez, with an inspiringly matched percussion and string ensemble led by drummer Jay Burnside and guitarist Ski Williamson, the Sideburns have created a formula that is as extremely different as it is similar to the garage rock scene they are properly linked to. In fact, there's a complimentary airiness to the way that the Flaming Sideburns tune their instruments that make me actually wonder if they don't record in a carport rather than a typical garage. Sounds like a novel approach, eh? There's more.
Martinez' greatest strength is the fact he does sound undeniably South American with his vocal pitch while combining the swagger of a Mick Jagger and the aura of a Lou Reed. And it's not contrived, folks; it's the real deal. A track like "Loose My Soul" exhibits the swagger quality beautifully as Martinez initially rallies a simulated crowd with a Spanish spoken charge all the while a crowd roar builds. The result culminates with an upbeat wah-wah drenched boogie anthem that is filled with such a charismatic vocal touch that even the regarded Hives front man Pelle Almqvist would find himself spitting and drooling over it.
Moreover, when garage bands attempt ballads, all hell generally breaks loose as the concept is a polar opposite to what the genre stands for. The Flaming Sideburns attempt it with the track"Stripped Down" and come up with something that would surely generate an accusation or two that they were plundering the back catalogue of the Velvet Underground. I haven't seen the talented White Stripes vocalist Jack White pull this off yet.
And for good measure, I'm sure we all remember the Toyota television commercial from 2002 with the driver of a Camry stopping on the freeway to do a simulated snow angel on the road in glee. The soundtrack to this madness is a seven- or eight-second blurb from the frenetic "Street Survivor," a song that the band obviously sold Toyota on the concept/title alone. I'll hedge a bet that the overrated Strokes, with their Casablancas Hollywood connection, will never find such profile in one of their tracks now or in the future.
And to think that the Flaming Sideburns are legitimate garage rockers and they achieve such undeniable diversity to their mix. The attention to varying the track order on Hallelujah Rock n' Rollah only serves to highlight this observation and is an activity other bands of the retro-rock ilk would be wise to invest more time.
Furthermore, this review wouldn't be complete if I didn't recognize the band copping a great rendition of that undeniable twangy, echo drenched sound on "Lonesome Rain" which is dead on surf revival material. Radio Birdman, the forgotten Australian forefathers of the '70s punk movement, are the band I think of that could sound as compelling with this genre and to think -- their songs were laid to wax 25 years ago!
So while hard-rock "noun bands" have become a dime a dozen these days, the Flaming Sideburns have figured out a way to create their own interesting stereotype with their second full-length album Hallelujah Rock n' Rollah. Always eclectic, never stale, and a band that music listeners wisely should pay attention to.