Wires on Fire’s music is perfectly indicative of the kind of chicanery that goes on at its label, Buddyhead. Famous (or infamous) for their juvenile name-calling and incessant feuding, Travis Keller and company have made a name for themselves by adopting a corporate mission statement in the image of the kid your old man said was “trouble.” The thing is, beneath that facade of juvenile delinquency, the folks at Buddyhead are nothing more than puffed-up music nerds who would be more adept at espousing the wonders of Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” than recounting the time they set that house ablaze. Similarly, Wires on Fire is a pop-rock band gussied up to look and sound like a dangerous “punk” band. (“Punk” appears in quotes because, thanks to the continued bastardization of the term, it bears little resemblance to what is, in fact, punk.)
While songs such as “Stallion” display Wires on Fire’s affinity for auditory freak-outs and deliberate sloppiness, the band members seem unable to completely abandon their pop sensibility. Even their best attempts at discord — “Death to Jeff Lynn,” for example — have more in common with a Diane Warren composition than the work of Mission of Burma. Amateurish Gregorian chants flesh out the song’s otherwise drunken arrangement, owing in some small part to the production of the title’s homophone, Electric Light Orchestra mastermind Jeff Lynne. The countrified riff of “Crooked Cattle” plays the role of a magician’s assistant, distracting the listener from the chorus’s catchy chord progression, and the catchy rhythm of “On a Train” could have even the most unadventurous of listeners tapping their toe. “Dusty Bibles Lead to Dirty Lives” boasts smoky crooning and jazz-inflected noodling that wouldn’t be out of Chris Isaak’s wheelhouse, and the album’s other ballad, “Crazy Woman River,” meanders aimlessly before revealing its sing-along chorus.
Such skullduggery is pretty much par for the course. It seems as though the members of Wires on Fire aspired to create a dissonant, rancorous album and ended up giving birth to a pretty good (albeit sloppy) pop-rock one. Some bands that work tirelessly to do just that, so the band members should pat themselves on the back. Unless, of course, such self-congratulatory gestures are verboten in “punk” rock.