Despite sounding wholly original and contemporary, the Inevitable Backlash have an old indie streak to them. You can tell this band would feel just as convertible toying with the mainstream/underground line in the mid- to late ’80s, even as that line has all but been obliterated in today’s scene. With their stellar primer, the Sex for Safety EP, and their flawed but must-hear debut album, My Two Brookes, the Inevitable Backlash are the band the Thermals should have been — a band that know that the punk-rock spirit will almost always burn brighter with a little bark and a little groove than simply relying on atonality and cute-indie-boy appeal.
For as many quirks, strange choices, and internal-joke-laden features that will likely build this Los Angeles band a cult following at the very least, My Two Brookes is structured in classic Great Rock Album style. It starts off with two intense, tone-setting rockers (the title track and "Diego Rivera,” or as I like to call the pair, “hard and harder”), followed by a cool-down track (“Abby’s Face,” in classic Grand Weeper fashion), with the weirder and better stuff carefully dispersed through the remaining seven tracks. The only thing indie about the album at surface level is its 30 minute run-time. There’s nary a bad track to be found here, and save for a couple of bad choices, this album could have been one of the best early albums of 2009. Some who hear it will say it’s one of the best anyway.
For instance, you may like to think of “Philenbus,” which immediately follows the classic three-track opener, as sounding like Nirvana’s “Breed” (another track No. 4) being covered by a band like Granddaddy. If that sounds completely cracked, it is, but it’s one of the many ways the Backlash sound rooted in classic and contemporary indie rock at the same time. Meanwhile, “Strawberry Rainbow Tan” sounds like it could be performed by any classic California rock band of the late ’80s/early ’90s. That doesn’t sound all that substantial, until you realize that the songs particular quirks would let that descriptor include both the Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Guns N’ Roses/Mötley Crüe ends of that spectrum.
So what’s the problem with My Two Brookes? For once, it’s more bass. Not from the bass guitar, mind you, but from the guitar that’s supposed to be lead. John Renton, who also does some stellar low-key singing, has turned his amp to almost all bass and no treble. This means that although the melodies, songwriting skill and creativity are all impeccable on the album, very few tracks have any sense of harmony, which makes the album a sludger when it didn’t have to be. Sometime tricks like dense, low-pitched guitars can be very effective in keeping yourself inaccessible. With little else going for you, it can even be considered a redeeming quirk. But this band’s got too much creative energy to need a bad distortion effect as its hook. This particular touch, which is made unavoidable by Manny Nieto’s Albini-style engineering, takes a potentially classic debut and simply makes it a great beginning that promises much, much more.
My Two Brookes is a 30-minute ephemeral blast of rock energy, which is similar to some of the best albums of recent years, ranging from Be Your Own Pet to Les Savy Fav to Marnie Stern. Unfortunately, Brookes’ unnecessary self-enforced limitations prevent the Backlash from reaching the highs of those peers, though I have no doubts that they are capable of reaching those peaks with a slightly tweaked conceit.