(Pirates Press Records)
It would be easy enough to curse The Drowns out for what the band has done with the Lunatics EP. Not unlike what innumerable other acts have done, over the years (Hot Water Music, NOFX and John Lennon all leap to mind), The Drowns have elected to take a moment that they’re capable of stretching out from their musical comfort zone (which has tended to stay within the bounds of melodic hardcore and ska) – presumably to illustrate the breadth of their talent and the implied lengths of their versatility. That’s all well and good for them but, while this release proves that The Drowns are a talented band, not every direction they choose to take is necessarily worth exploring.
The sense of general disappointment which comes to define half of this EP first appears as soon as needle catches groove and “Live Like Yer Dyin’” opens the A-side. There, The Drowns toss most of the melodic hardcore styling which won them their fanbase in the trash and trade it for a sound which plays closer to straightforward rock; although it comes after an intro which sounds like it might have come from The Muppets’ drummer, Animal, the power expressed at the beginning instantly devolves into the sort of rock n’ roll cliches which have been hammered flat over the last seventy years. So much so, in fact, that it felt dated and played out when John Lennon tried his hand at it forty-seven years ago, and hasn’t started sounding less played out here. To the band’s credit, they sound like they’re excited about what they’re doing – but but that energy isn’t as accessible for those on the outside, looking in.
While “Live Like Yer Dyin’” starts the going on a fairly light-handed note, The Drowns actually get even lighter when “…Dyin’” ends and Lunatics‘ title track follows it. There, the guitar assault laid down by Aaron Peters and Jonny Wade runs pretty lean and the drums actually get uncharacteristically light in the mix, while Peters attempts to do a impression of Dave Wakeling, to an effect which benefits precisely no one. In this case, not even the band sounds sold on what they’re doing as Peters warbles out secondhand takes of hard times (see lines like, “But you just keep running in the same rat race/ While you laugh at the ones that fall from grace,” and try to keep your dinner down), and that working idea endures through to the close of “The Working Dead” too. In that case, the only reason that listeners would follow the band onto the flipside of the EP would be because they’ll want to know if there’s any hope or chance of redemption on Lunatics at all.
As it turns out, while the A-side of Lunatics is generally soft and consistently poor, the B-side illustrates that The Drowns concentrated all of the good cuts on this release’s second side. Listeners’ eyes will open wide with excitement as stylus sinks in and “She’s The Knife” explodes with some great, English streetpunk power. Listeners will feel as though the band has really been turned off the leash as the vocals and guitars in the song roar together, and the rhythm section bounces anthemically. That high-energy shot is contrasted very well with the comparatively soft (but also very hooky) “Look What We’re Become” – which is really the second in the one-two punch that listeners will love and remember about this EP – and then they’ll have to concede that the rock-ish “Tokyo Red Alert” is passable enough to close out this running gracefully enough. How true that actually is may be up for debate, but this critic is willing to let “Tokyo Red Alert” ride – the closer isn’t incredible, but it’s respectable enough.
So, needless to say, Lunatics is not The Drowns’ strongest release. This EP is not irredeemable but, in a catalogue characterized by more songs that are great then poor, Lunatics is definitely exists on the weaker side of the band’s catalogue. This release could have been pared down to a single’ worth of cuts, but it’s important to remember that the results of such experimentation could have been much, much worse. [Bill Adams]
The Lunatics EP is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records. https://shop.piratespressrecords.com/products/the-drowns-lunatics-12