Review: Spectrals – Sob Story
Published on June 9th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Pproduced by former Girls bassist Chet ‘JR’ White – seriously, how trendy is that name? – Louis Jones’s second album as Spectrals is shot through with a classic songwriting approach that frequently satisfies, shining forth with a nice, sophisticated line in well-placed minor chords, sevenths and non-linear/anti-tonal progressions. It’s like listening to some long-lost early-’60s gem reanimated by modern ‘indie rock’ production, but this – along with Jones’s unwavering devotion to equipping nasal Elvis Costello vocals with Dylan-y inflections – is part of the problem with Sob Story.
Rocksucker was sufficiently taken with “A Heartbeat Behind” to make it one of our singles of the week recently, reviewing it in the following terms: “We were ready to write this one off as derivative rockabilly unnecessariness…and then that absolutely divine chorus kicks in. They sure showed us. Big Star, is this you? Fabulous stuff.” Having now listened to the album, we’ll stand by all of that; there’s no shortage of swoonsome melodies on Sob Story but it ain’t all that original. To phrase that slightly differently, it ain’t all that original but there’s no shortage of swoonsome melodies. See, depending on how you shift the emphasis, that can be a positive or a negative report, so how much you enjoy Sob Story is reliant on how accepting you are of its limitations, or even how little you care about them in the first place.
In a way, the modernness of the production serves to emphasise the timelessness of Spectrals’s approach to song craft, which manages to remain defiantly luxuriant even when thrust atop one of those pounding “Rocks”/”I am the Resurrection” drum beats, as it is on both “Let Me Cave In” and “Milky Way”. That sort of indie band crutch-leaning can sink lesser songwriters, so kudos to Jones for sustaining warmth not just through his melodies but also nifty little lyrics like “I don’t have enough for a wedding ring” and, from the delicate, tender “Friend Zone”, “You don’t take me seriously / I can’t blame you for that”.
In each of these respects, the aforementioned “Milky Way” merits mention for the line “She couldn’t be you if she tried” and the ace, semitone-rising bass thing on its chorus, very effective as they each are. Elsewhere we get country-ish applications of pedal steel on the title track, the twiddly psych guitar of “Limousine”, the vamping boogies and screeching “Ring a Ring o’Roses” guitar line of the splendidly titled “Keep Your Magic Out of My House” and the neat trick that is the stuttering punctuation of “Gentle”.
“In a Bad Way” rounds things off on a note of soft, chiming doominess, so Sob Story is not without its stylistic shifts; it all still sounds very much unified, though, which can also be seen as either a pro or a con according to your inclinations. That Sob Story has Rocksucker asking all these questions earns it the benefit of our doubt, but there’s still the residual notion left of a songwriting talent in need, somehow, of further liftoff.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
Sob Story is out now on Wichita.