A rag doll torn between two extremes, the Go’s Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride seesaws, for twelve tracks, between carbon copies of Paul McCartney’s blank-eyed, beard-scruff ’70s solo efforts and the ear candy harmonizing of Brian Wilson’s mid-’60s masterworks. At times the album sounds like an aural documentary of the Wilson/ McCartney semi-feud that helped midwife such landmarks as Revolver, Pet Sounds, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course, the Go’s songwriting skill is nowhere near that of those two, and the music seems more like a reenactment of 1960s/1970s pop-rock than an outgrowth of it. It’s an album of replication rather than innovation.
And even if the members of the Go can nearly reproduce the heady pop of McCartney and the monaural nuggets of pop head case Wilson, they are unable or unwilling to rise above their influences. “You Go Bangin’ On” whiplashes from Beach Boys melodicism to pre-1965 vocal pop to a ’70s garage crunch before bringing it all back home to the Boys’ high-water beach pop; the piano vamp and bouncy, sing-along chorus of “Caroline” ably attempts early McCartney balladry; and “Yer Stoned Italian Cowboy” is a hum-along dogfight between the cute one’s affable soft rock and Wilson’s fragile harmonizing, a push-and-pull that evolves (or devolves, depending on your opinion) into a scorching Wings-era rocker. But none shows the band to have a sound of its own.
Unlike their fellow Detroit rockers the White Stripes (Jack was briefly a Go guy, and the two bands are oft compared), the members of the Go have so far resisted using the influence of their musical heroes as a launching pad into their own realm of mesmerizing pastiche-rock. Instead, they record such capable but generic songs as the sepia-toned FM radio murmuring of “Refrain” and the faceless Mike Love-esque “Invisible Friends.” None of this keeps Howl from being the pleasant background sound that it is, but it certainly holds it back from the level of music it so relentlessly swirls around, leaving the disc haunted by the howls of the past, unable to make any noise of its own.