Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Album Review: Danko Jones - Wild Cat

When you receive an album, you can't help but make snap judgments. While there is the old adage that you can't judge a book (on in this case an album) by its cover, you can make a few pretty good hypotheses based on the outer packaging. When this new Danko Jones album showed up, with it's retro 70's album cover, and the first two songs both name-checking rock and roll, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what I was getting myself into, even if I can't say I've listened to a Danko Jones album before. Was I right?

I've opined many times about my distaste for songs written about rocking. It seems to me that the single least rocking thing you can do is whine to everyone else about how rocking you are. You can't give yourself a nickname, and you can't declare yourself rocking. If it isn't apparent from the music, you're not doing it right.

Danko's approach here is to be meat-and-potatoes rock and roll, with the slightly fuzzy production you would have expected years ago. That guitar tone, with the occasional cowbell hit, makes the record sound older than it's intending. This isn't written like a retro album, so the production choice is odd, and out of place. These songs are calling out for a sharper, more biting production, and instead have to fight through guitars that sound a bit flabby, and never feel the least bit dangerous.

I enjoy the start/stop riffing on "You Are My Woman", which could easily be a Black Star Riders song, but also sounds like a seriously toned-down version of The Darkness, when they were actually a good band. But it also leads to my biggest issue with the album. For a project named after a singer, the vocals are a rather unimportant part of this album. Danko's voice is fine, but his melodies are tame and flat, rarely giving the songs anything that you would imagine yourself singing along with. The entire album is centered around the riffs, for that reason, which is the wrong approach, since the band doesn't write the kind of riffs that can support a song all on their own.

A few of them create some nice rhythms, but they are mostly repetitions of incredibly simple chord sequences. That is the perfect backdrop for songs that have strong melodies to balance out the sound, but we don't get that here. Instead, we have songs that don't have enough interesting moments to justify even the three and four minute running times.

The album cover is a picture of a cat duo-toned to look almost alien. That's a fitting image, because "Wild Cat" sounds like an album that has had all the color and detail stripped away. We have nothing here but the very skeletons of songs, and that's just not enough to interest me when the underlying ideas aren't strong enough. The riffs aren't catchy, and the melodies are boring. That adds up to an album that is trying to convince itself it rocks, but I get the feeling even Danko knows it doesn't.

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