Cobra Music, 2007
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/16/2007
If the increasing number of bands sounding so devilishly close to the once flourishing post-punk style from the 80s makes you feel that rock music is gradually being sucked out of ideas -- to the point that it has to reach out to another era in time to get them -- you might as well start accepting this fact and get used to it, and try to enjoy what’s out there for what it’s worth.
Such should be the attitude while trying to explore Automatic, the debut from Telephone, led by ex-Dandy Warhols drummer Eric Hedford (who plays the role of the keyboardist and singer). You will be pleasantly surprised with the discovery.
Telephone is one of the few indie-rock bands that basks in the shadows of the 80s synth-pop movement, which is actually tolerable and even quite enjoyable. The band takes the sound and adds a touch of bombast in the form of heavy guitars, complete with hints of solos every now and then and heavily amplified 60s-styled synths. The result is tawdry pseudo-futuristic rock music.
Although Telephone’s influences on the record are many, they seem quite different than what one would expect from this sort of band. With the cloying synths and dramatic singing on “Burying Pieces” (and also on the anthemic album standout “Goodbye”), the band becomes automatically comparable to the Inspiral Carpets.
Whereas on “In December,” probably the only cut on the record that doesn’t ooze with grandiose synths, the modest and sweet jangly-pop formula is very Echo And The Bunnymen. On “Mystery Girl,” the band sounds like some obscure psychedelic act trying to imitate the Beach Boys, with the flighty vocals enthusiastically singing “pa-rapa-pa, do-do-do-do-do” in a chantingly repetitive manner (with subtle echoes providing harmony in the background) and with the significant presence of the soothing signature rhythmic din of the tambourine.
On tracks like “Automatic” and “More,” Hedford’s disaffected vocals and the total lack of any emotion in the music itself makes the band sound ordinary, just like every other band on top 40 alternative radio, which hinders an otherwise solid release.
In spite of the various shades to Telephone’s retro-styled music, the band truly shows great form with its confident arena-rock styled opening track “Shout About It” and the ensuing “Shine,” where the guitars swagger with pride and the songs beam with a glorious upbeat. The pompous guitars in the middle of “Shine” shows off shamelessly how much Hedford and his gang is blessed by the music of one of rock ‘n roll’s dearest, The Who.
As just another wannabe of the 80s post-punk/synth-pop drift, Telephone doesn’t do badly at all in terms of originality. Even though it is blatantly apparent where the band gets most of its ideas from, it still manages to keep the interest in the music, enough that every once in a while it will make its way to the CD player.