|The Bronx - ‘The Bronx (IV)’ (White Drugs/ATO Records)|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Monday, 21 January 2013 03:00|
When one of the finest punk rock bands ever to come out of Los Angeles fell almost accidentally into my life a decade ago via their rabble rousing self titled debut album, and then almost immediately followed it with an even more incendiary live performance at Cardiff’s long since defunct Barfly venue, I quite honestly never thought The Bronx would ever make it to this point.
Why? Well if one band lives by the rules Ginger Wildheart so eloquently put to music in the excellent ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’ then it is Matt, Joby, Jorma, Ken and Brad. They have always asked lots of questions about themselves, and perhaps more importantly of us their fans within the various albums and side projects that have since followed, and they can also lay claim to never eating the bullshit fed by the music industry, largely through their integrity as musicians.
But as we all know by now bands with integrity rarely last in the music industry so how have these five misfits managed to survive doing what they do when so many around them have fallen? Well let’s start with them knowing how to write a good and memorable tune amongst their shouty angst ridden music, then let’s factor in the seemingly small matter that through each of their records they have retained their own unique White Drugs label identity in spite of whoever it was ultimately releasing it, thus distancing the fans from the aforementioned bullshit that comes with dealing with record labels, and finally if you have ever had the good fortune of seeing this band live you’ll know they really do play every show as if it is their last, and most importantly they look like they are loving every minute of doing so in the process.
So with it being something like five years since the band’s third self titled album, I had the privilege back in November 2012 to sample some of the tracks from this album live at a low key show in Reading, and that night I was instantly blown away by the immediacy of tracks such as ‘The Unholy Hand’, ‘Style Over Everything’, ‘Under The Rabbit’ and ‘Youth Wasted’, all of them adding a new “almost commercial” angle to the rock ‘n’ roll barbs that we already know and love The Bronx for. That night on the last train back to Wales I found myself scribbling within my gig notes that ‘The Bronx (IV)’ was already my album of the year for 2013 and I hadn’t even heard it yet, so the million dollar question I guess now is “does the finished product really live up to those heady expectations?”
Well let me start by saying whatever you do when you do finally get hold of your copy of ‘The Bronx (IV)’, do not do like I did and listen to someone else who had heard it before me, this in turn had me go and immediately listen to one track in isolation, and the album just doesn’t work like that, granted ‘Ribcage’ might have been an excellent taster with which to get you flailing around the room in joyous rapture at the band’s imminent return, but really you do have to listen to the dozen tracks that make up this record in their totality to fully get what is going on within the band dynamic. That’s because the Bronx have changed brothers and sisters, and this could quite possibly be what they term in the business to be their long overdue “breakthrough” album.
Now just hold that thought for a moment before you all go running to the hills with that perhaps hideous term of reference stuck in your mind, I’m definitely not saying that The Bronx have gone all pop punk on us with this album, no it’s far from that, but there is most definitely a more melodic edge to the songs and particular in Matt Caughthran’s normally caustic vocal lines, plus the guitar tone is, dare I say it, sharper and cleaner and perhaps more Steve Jones this time around, but then guitarist Joby T Ford has always been a rock ‘n’ roller at heart, so you could half expect the guys to have one day released a more rock than punk rock record. One that is more Sultans than Hot Snakes - if you catch my drift.
The other reason I say start at the beginning with ‘The Bronx (IV)’ is because the first track ‘The Unholy Hand’ really is an outstanding opening blast, you can just see Matty boy bouncing around on the edge of the stage beaming from ear to ear waiting to launch himself headlong into the faithful come the “Antichrist/Holy Ghost” chorus. At 2 minutes and 37 seconds in length this song is everything the live version I first witnessed promised it to be, perhaps even more so. Then comes ‘Along For The Ride’ a track built on a huge guitar lick that also boasts the first of the more melodic vocal performances from punk rock’s number one Kix fan.
Keeping with that ‘Cool Kids’ theme the next track up ‘Style Over Everything’ for me is head and shoulders the album’s best tune, mixing as it does the older dirtier vocal approach of Caughthran with the more defined guitar work of Ford and Horne to produce a sound that is garage punk perfection albeit with stadium rock potential. Likewise ‘Wasted Youth’ another of those preview tracks from a few months backs explodes from the speakers to leave you wondering just how frantic these opening four tracks will sound live when The Bronx return for a series of countrywide shows next month.
As the album reaches it’s mid section ‘Too Many Devil’s’ adds a Desert Rock twist to the old Bronx formula, ‘Pilot Light’ meanwhile is ‘Sunday Girl’ meets ‘On A Noose’, whilst ‘Torches’ actually reminds me of ‘Holy Bible’ era Manics playing a Mariachi El Bronx tune. The aforementioned melodic element of the new Bronx sound definitely more predominate in these tracks, that is until ‘Under The Rabbit’ kicks you squarely between the legs just to remind you that The Bronx of old are still there ready to shock ‘n’ roll and they are once again taking no prisoners in the process.
If ‘Style Over Everything’ is the best of the melodic tunes on offer here then ‘Ribcage’ is the best of the old schoolers, this is one mean bastard of a tune that will leave you sweat soaked with a bloody nose after just one play…. It’s fucking awesome - simple.
We’re into the album’s home straight and ‘Valley Heat’ revisits that aforementioned Desert Rock influence, before relating back to that track I listened to in isolation I must admit that now every time I listen to ‘The Bronx (IV)’ I have to bite my lip during ‘Life Less Ordinary’, this is due largely to Caughthran’s almost Anthony Kiedis vocal delivery, something that whilst unexpected and perhaps unnecessary it does also illustrate once again just how versatile a vocalist the good natured frontman really is.
Finishing the album with the almost metal rifferama of ‘Last Revelation’ it’s at this point I find myself quickly pressing replay as there is something about ‘The Bronx (IV)’ I can’t quite put my finger on, it’s almost like there is something that is missing that compels me to want to listen to it again and again. It’s certainly taken me a good few listens to actually reach a conclusion about this record, and that has to be that whilst this is a really good Bronx record it most certainly isn’t the immediate album of the year contender I was expecting. It’s what I would call a grower, a record that possibly has the potential to be a breakthrough but by equal measures it is not exactly the type of listening experience suited to those who like to pick out the odd track or two from an album.
For me though The Bronx are a band who can simply do no wrong, and I’ll happily return to this record before 99% of the other stuff I’ll get to hear this year, it’s just I expected perhaps a little more…the career defining album from The Bronx perhaps?
Who knows, that might finally come with ‘The Bronx (V)’?