I distrust rock and roll that's too controlled. One of the fundamental delights of the genre is the constant state of tension that art and artist exist in, the way even the best bands seem not so much to be playing the music, as reining it in. There's a reason noise seeps in through the cracks of even the most tightly controlled of masterpieces; there's a reason why the image of a smashed guitar is one of the most potent symbols in rock history: before this kind of gesture was appropriated as a cliché display of theatric indulgence it was the most cathartic act a rocker could undertake, a desperate attempt to muster control over artistic impulses that would not be denied. Though noise is not of itself an indicator of quality — I still can't see the worth in the "No Wave" movement, 30 years on — there is a correlation there I think bears remarking.
Conversely, a lack of noise does not symbolize a lack of talent. However, it may hint at a paucity of real ideas. Witness Ex Hex
's first album, Rips
, an album of such focused simplicity that there is never a risk of noise contaminating the music. It may not be the most conservative record of all time, but it's up there: there's not a single risky cut on this album, not even a single risky line. Instead, Ex Hex is content to borrow from the classic-rock radio filler that you can never quite remember: the opening of "How You Got That Girl" is almost note for note the opening of 38 Special's "Hold on Loosely." Timony's vocals may not be identical to Chrissie Hynde's (of Pretenders fame), but they verge awfully close, especially on "Hot and Cold," a song that may very well be a lost Pretender's cut. "Outro" features the kind of bluesy shuffle that characterized an entire decade of guitar-driven laments.
There are enjoyable moments here, from some delightfully dumb lyrics ("If you're really mother nature's sun/Shining perpetual sound on everyone"; "Come down from your tower/you got tall tree power") to a few fun guitar solos, such as the one that marks the mid-point of "Waterfall," but it's too little and it's all too tightly controlled. For an album named Rips
there's a distinct lack of ripping. No solo seems off the cuff, no drum fills seem inspired by a primitive need to just cut loose; everything sounds calculated. Not cynically so, this isn't a matter of corporate rock retreading, but it's so meticulously composed that it lacks vitality.
This is the kind of album you listen to and bop your head along with on the way to pick up the groceries or the kids, not the record you crank late at night while blasting down the highway with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It's all perfectly polished and stream-lined and pleasant, the kind of album that never actually sounds bad and, yet, never quite sounds great. This is eminently enjoyable music, but it is also eminently forgettable.
Watch Ex Hex get zapped into party punks in the video for their single "Waterfall," below: