Arriving in the U.S. just as their hype has generally died down in the U.K., usurped by those Arctic Monkeys and Pete Doherty’s train wrecks, the debut LP from the members of Nine Black Alps merits certain small credit. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they recorded without the playbook that inspired ’70s and ’80s angular rock, choosing instead to option the sounds of early-’90s Seattle, most notably Nirvana’s guitar textures and riffs. (Yes, Nirvana took a lot of those from Pixies, and such who-begat-whom squabbling could go on for hours.) These Manchester boys even occasionally hit these riffs relatively well — particularly early on with “Cosmopolitan” and “Unsatisfied.” But elements of greatness, and even pretty-goodness, are painfully absent.
Everything Is, the follow-up to the band’s eponymous debut, could be seen as refreshing in its lack of new-new-wave format — if playing the “what is that riff lifted from” game didn’t divert my attention. And where these pop-friendly-with-metal-edge riffs have worked before, Nine Black Alps’ album lacks what its predecessors had: a complement of utter weirdness (Pixies), a cryptic, compelling lyrical voice (Nirvana), or sheer charisma (Foo Fighters). Ultimately, the names they’re checking had an evolving combination of elements that fed the formula. The members of Nine Black Alps merely know how to assault with bouncy hooks and strong riffs, creating a muddled frenzy around singer/guitarist’s hollers of “Just sick and tired of all I’ve tried/ Unsatisfied.” Producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck, the Vines) squeezed all he could from Nine Black Alps, but ultimately the album runs dry.
Far too much here smacks of routine: The verse/chorus/verse, the wailing, and the peppering with acoustic songs for punctuation — albeit including the complex and crisp guitar work on “Behind your Eyes” — all translates into what I can only assume the band’s new behemoth label hopes to be highly marketable. Although that’s a jumping-off point, really. Nine Black Alps could potentially help mainstream radio, shifting it into guitar rock that knows what guitar rock should be. Or maybe tepid singles such as “Unsatisified” will merely work their way into some rock deejay’s late-night wasteland. Either way, it’s unsatisfying.
Interscope Web site