At what point does it become ridiculous to keep the same band name? When Nirvana replaced their drummer with Dave Grohl, should they have changed their moniker from the band that released Bleach? Is it really that big a deal that Axl Rose still releases music under the name Guns N’ Roses despite being the sole remaining member of the band? Between The Rock Of Travolta (TROT)’s previous album Uluru and their latest release Fine Lines sits seven years, different members and a music scene that has moved on since they were last melting faces with their huge instrumental riffs. Since then, post-rock as a scene has expanded and diverged and its initial impact of grandiose has reduced as familiarity with its epic sonic paths increase.
In many ways, you wonder what has motivated the band to return. It can’t have been a light decision to continue again after so much change. Picking things up again with a series of intermittent live shows in anticipation of the new album, there was no eschewing of pre-Fine Lines material to suggest a severance from the past. As this would suggest, sonically, there are no Bowie-esque giant leaps in direction on Fine Lines. It’s unmistakably TROT.
Unfortunately, one of the ways this manifests is an identical criticism I threw at their previous release. My irk is the distant place of the drums in the mix. Anyone who has had the joyous experience of witnessing a TROT live show will be mesmerised by the clinical, powerful drumming of Joe Durow which, despite moments of cataclysm, show a fantastic restraint amongst songs with layers upon layers of instrumentation and orchestration. They follow the flows of the music with an understated precision. However when it comes to the recording, they sit passively low in the mix, with the snare and the kick often lost amongst the madness. I don’t know if there’s some sort of anti-loudness wars statement going on with the final master here as 65DaysOfStatic previously attempted on their misguidedly produced ‘The Destruction of Small Ideas’. With the singular ferocity as focused as it is on these nine tracks, I challenge anyone to tell me that the sound of the pounding drums behind ‘Last March Of The Acolytes’ is anything but deflating behind those soaring riffs. Pardon my tangent into geekery here, but with music that transports you to another place in a genre such as this, I believe this to be a particularly important factor. When this album explodes, I expect to see a solid rectangle of a waveform that slaps me in the face like a giant erection of awesome than instead to listen and think “Oh yeah, this is the one that sounded awesome live!”.
The album, though relatively short for such a long creation time never outstays its welcome. The opening duo of ‘Rock By Numbers’ with its evil robot march of a lead synth riff and the aforementioned ‘Last March Of The Acolytes’ are an excellent, unapologetic call to arms instantly silencing any doubts that this return to the scene was anything but a good decision. As with their previous material, their songs are journeys of giganticness that often end in such a different place from where they commenced that it takes a few listens to wonder how you got there. To be able to achieve this without losing interest or appearing contrived is one of the band’s greatest strengths. With no song on the album that spans over six minutes, you can’t accuse them of being indulgent.
The highlight of the album sits near centre between two cushions of connection tracks, namely ‘Three Days’. As the vocal synths gently open the proceedings, I would like to meet the person who didn’t stop and take notice the first time they heard that frantic drum line introduced to proceedings. To all extents and purposes, this is a single, if there was a market for singles from instrumental rock bands. A memorable hook, a conventional structure, all that lacks is something you can sing in the shower. It places Dave Warrington’s guitar lines in the front centre, a man well schooled in the joy of guitar noodling yet putting it to good use within these streamlined tunes. This is immediate post-rock that doesn’t demand specific listening circumstances to get you exploring further.
With a runtime of under 37 minutes, a succinct offering by the standards of their genre, it’s as though this album is still nervously testing the water. There’s not enough “further” left to explore. Though showing great potential for the future, the album is by no means the masterpiece they could have within them. There’s enough vitality and flow of ideas stuffed into these songs to make them an appetising prospect once again but with a sound as over the top as theirs, what’s really lacking is the cohesive confidence to match.
Release date: 14th March 2011