Like the sharp rise of soul samples in hip-hop in the early 2000s, rock of recent years has displayed a decided love for the rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Whether it’s the dark Southern jams of a Jack White project, the beach bunny bonanza on acid of Wavves, or even the good time bro rock of a Free Energy, rock’s most crucial time periods have come back in full effect. And while there are countless bands who have carried the musical torch, there have been casualties of the revival. One such victim is New York-based garage-pop band The Postelles.
While other acts are channeling the Beach Boys and Led Zeppelins of the world, The Postelles have fused Jan & Dean and a slightly more mod-ish version of The Strokes (that second influence is abundantly clear as Albert Hammond Jr. produced four of the album’s 11 tracks.) Like the bubblegum rock of the ’60s, The Postelles work best with a catchy concept. “123 Stop” is especially full of an overly sweet, cutesy defeat, a song where a pretty boy pouts to his best girl over the sounds of a low-key groove. Like The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” or Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, the protagonist in “Boy’s Best Friend” deals with a girl who doesn’t like boys. Rather than being upset, the boy confesses his understanding to a layer of rich, jangly guitars.
But save for a few great moments, musically speaking, the band is reminiscent of a cover band: all the right notes are being hit, but none of the feeling is there. Tracks are repetitive and uninspired, with each sounding too familiar. Yes, the rock of the ’60s was known for its uber-polished exterior, but even the most gimmicky of songs let loose with pained vocals or a feeling of despair via a heavy organ. This emotional emptiness is even more disappointing as the band is comprised of crack writers who continue the disconnect in some great lyrics and concepts.
“Blue Room” is actually a step toward reworking that gimmicky formula of 60’s pop-rock songs. Here, the protagonist sings, “And when she said she’d leave you/I never thought that she would mean for me/In spite of what she needs, try not turn your back on me.” In a hyper-modernized doo-wop call back, the friend responds, “The truth is always blind to me,” with the not-so-great of a friend admitting that it’s all “the jealous mind.” Here we have a unique perspective, one with an edge of realism and a tinge of awkwardness to the situation of jilted lovers. But save for a neat-o concept, the song falls flat, without a big enough reach musically or drudging up serious pain and absolute devastation.
“Whisper Whisper” features the same lack of enthusiasm and boundary-pushing. A girl deals with the kind of guy who slaps girls in the face and tells them he loves them, the kind of guy full of vile intentions and sugar-sweet promises. As the protagonist talks to the friend/ex-girlfriend, you’re left to wonder where the outrage and indignation toward her abuse went. There’s a disconnect between the feelings in lyrics and how those feelings are expressed sonically that much of the album suffers from, stifling some great potential. But it also shows a complete misreading of the potential of the music of the ’60s and ’70s: It wasn’t about a particular sound– it was about innovation and changing the world one tune at a time.
Have you ever seen That Thing You Do, the film about the rise and fall of the fictional band The Oneders? The Postelles are kind of like that. Everything feels like a construct, and while good pop music calls out to be devoured over and over again, their debut becomes just another footnote in the musical revolution.