A deeper look at the grooves pressed into Naked Giants – The Shadow, LP.
While it’s not terribly uncommon for a band to make great creative changes in their sound and style unexpectedly throughout their career, the knowledge that such events can happen still doesn’t exactly explain the arc that Naked Giants have taken which ultimately brought the band to The Shadow – the group’s second full-length album for New West Records (third for the label). When the band started (in 2018 – with Sluff), it was almost cute how the band and their sound seemed to come together; with brightly colored wardrobe and a sound that was so shiny and bright (to say nothing of the post-punk/new wave/Aussie rock amalgam that the band was messing around with at the time) that it made listeners squint on the strength of reflex alone. Then the group changed the game with their “Green Fuzz” 10” single, which illustrated that the band had a darker, edgier and heavier sound in them and seemed to completely change the projected course of their development. That was cool and exciting – but now Naked Giants has returned with The Shadow, which basically ignores everything the band has done so far, presents a completely new set of ideas and starts fresh again.
Listeners will begin to feel the difference between The Shadow and everything else Naked Giants have done on their previous releases as soon as the tribal drumming which opens “Walk Of Doom” (the first cut on the A-side of The Shadow) begins to sound – and spontaneously causes their hearts to start racing. In this case, it’s hard not to say that the beginning doesn’t feel a little familiar; just like Black Lips did when they boldly began to walk out of the garage [see Arabia Mountain, released in 2011 –ed], Naked Giants slap on the most brash expression they know and sneer their way through lines like, “I’ve got a dollar in my bag/ Somebody asked me for a drag/ I’ve gotta get back home/ Somebody told me that I did it again” and blur their way through chord changes which feel gloriously sloppy (or at least fashionably so – they’re not actually as loose as anything Sid Vicious or The New York Dolls committed to tape) for just enough time to let listeners know they’ve arrived before the song slams closed.
Needless to say, what Naked Giants have done in this beginning isn’t rocket science – but it is the kind of salvo that only idiots with nothing to lose could make work so well.
…And, defying probability, the band keeps MAKING IT WORK THAT WELL after they’ve made their point that first time, too – they know they’re onto something, and so do listeners. “High School (Don’t Like Them)” follows the same path set by “Walk Of Doom” by perfectly rewriting every ‘wasted youth anthem’ for high school trouble makers (think “I’m Eighteen,” “Highway To Hell,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come Out and Play” – to name only a few) and put their own spin on the sound before “Take A Chance” crosses a great, stomping, rock idea with a very danceable rhythm and “Turns Blue” changes the movement up with a very British sigh (think early U2), before cross-pollinating the two to arrive at a sound that could best be called “moody New Wave” for “(God Damn) What I Am” and then going back to the moody well with the more Pink Floydian acoustic flavor of “The Ripper,” which closes the side. It would be easy enough to argue that abandoning “The Ripper” at the end of a side inappropriately stalls the album’s running only halfway through it, but the song’s solid and deep low end as well as the surly guitar performance that the song features will keep listeners engaged enough to stick with the album after a turntable’s stylus lifts and the record’s side needs changing.
And while the oppressively measured stature of “Unpeeled” doesn’t exactly measure up as the best way to open the album’s B-side, the manic ‘crash and resist’ thematic form which characterizes “Television” (readers really need to hear the song to understand, but this description is apt) will draw listeners who may have started to lose interest in the music back in. There isn’t actually a whole lot to the song (guitars that screech and a recurring refrain of “Television”), but the pigheaded stab against mediocrity that the song certainly represents is just the right kind of savory red meat to keep listener on the line. After that, “Better Not Waste My Time” makes another great attack against boredom and the album’s title track actually manages to cross-wire Sabbath-y stoner rock with pretty boy vocal performances before a resolution is finally reached with “Song For When You Sleep” – which combines a more labored with a sleepier permutation of the vocal tone that Naked Giants have upheld for most of the album to close it. As happens so often in situations like this, some critics will likely complain that the quick decline represented by “Song For When You Sleep” feels wrong and leaves listeners feeling cheated rather than instilling a sense of satisfaction in them, but such complaints can be shrugged off easily by those who were won by The Shadow as unreasonable – or say that detractors missed the point in the first place (which drives everyone crazy, every time they hear it).
In the end, whether intentional or not, the only option that Naked Giants will find they’re left with after listeners have the chance to absorb The Shadow is that they’ll have to step up and reveal where they’ve headed sonically through the series of albums they’ve released since signing to New West. Next time out, those won over (some won over again) by The Shadow will want something to rub in the faces of those who have questioned their taste, or the detractors that the band has will demand undeniable proof of the band’s inevitable collapse. Either way, whatever comes after The Shadow will need to be spectacular; this album is good, but the next one will have to be “do or die” because of it.