The pop album that really isn’t – it’s cleaner, sure, but is it that much cleaner, that much more commercial? Most of their catchiest songs are on their debut and this record just doesn’t feel anywhere near as “commercial” to me as its reputation suggests. I guess they’re a little less aggressive, and a little less noisy, but I think it’s relative and it doesn’t feel to me like a different band, or a band that has “sold out” by moving to a major label and cleaning up their sound.
I think this is Bachmann’s least good set of songs of their original four albums and I’m not sure it’s close. “Assassination on X-Mas Eve” is far and away Bachmann’s worst song, lyrically (that I can understand the lyrics too). It almost feels like a joke. There’s nothing on here that matches the best songs from Icky Mettle or even “The Greatest of All Time” and possibly even Vee Vee. Aside from that song I just mentioned, none of them are bad, but I do feel like it’s clear Bachmann was running out of steam as the principle songwriter. (Or maybe he was just writing other songs that didn’t fit the band, as that could explain both White Trash Heroes‘ left turn and also Crooked Fingers.
Their sonic palette has expanded. Bachmann has up the piano for the first time, something that it’s hard to imagine the band on Icky Mettle doing. Though this record sounds mostly nothing like White Trash Heroes, it does make some sense as the stepping stone between their original sound and the sound they had on that record, when they are often unrecognizable as AOL. But this record is still close enough to their original sound to both sound like AOL and not really feel like an interesting left turn.
I do feel like I’m being more critical than I mean to be. This is a band I enjoy, but I do feel like this record is clearly their weakest of their original four albums. It lacks the songs of their first two records (especially their debut) and it lacks the radical changes in direction of their fourth (seemingly final) album. The lack of great material is the bigger issue. But, I do think the lack of variety is also an issue for me, given that I know White Trash Heroes better than any of their other albums. I know it’s coming next.