Without Feathers won’t
be the death of the Stills, but it will probably lose the band more
fans than it will gain. Fans can be fickle. To paraphrase Homer
Simpson, they want their beer cold, their TV loud and their Stills to
sound like they did on Logic Will Break Your Heart. Sure, it was derivative and Johnny-come-lately-ish, but Logic had style enough to get hipsters swaying like Robert Smith
all across this great land, and it remains an entirely listenable album
(even if no one else at Prefix agrees with that statement).
On the band’s second album, there is nary a vestige of the post-punky, square-root-of-Interpol
sound that the band pulled off remarkably well on its debut. Instead
the band members have opted for an aesthetic that falls somewhere
between Oasis and the Elected‘s most recent album. Fans’ initial reactions to the first single, “In the Beginning,”
were pretty poor. Lukewarm dissent such as “What happened to my
Stills?” on the band’s Web forum caused it to be taken offline. But in
a historical context (“historical” used loosely), this transformation
shouldn’t come as too huge a surprise. Prior to the release of Logic, the Stills were a ska band called the Undercovers, complete with this perfectly awful “we’re a kooky ska band” photo.
But let’s get down to the brass tacks. Without Feathers sees
former drummer and the band’s main songwriter, Dave Hamelin, stepping
up to the mike, strapping on a guitar and completely Bogarting the
singing duties, relegating band poster boy Tim Fletcher to lead guitar
and occasional vocalizing. Bogarting indeed, at the end of the day
Hamelin pipes up for nine of the twelve songs, leaving Fletcher with
three of the album’s worst. Hamelin’s nasal timbre isn’t a bad paring
for the new sound, but when compared to Fletcher’s work on Logic, clearly he has the weaker voice.
The songs on Without Feathers
are fine, really, and for the most part pretty well-crafted, but there
just doesn’t seem to be a good reason to listen to them. I’ve tried to
come up with one situation in which I would think, “You know what would
sound really good right now,” but I’ve yet to find one. It’s not that
the music is some misunderstood square peg in a round-hole world, it’s
more like a square peg in a game of darts — the junx don’t stick.
aforementioned “In the Beginning” leads off the record and sets the
tone. Kick drums build up a driving pace, with B-3 organs and clean
guitars all swelling like the fancy-boy younger brothers of Bob Seger’s
“Hollywood Nights.” If you’re not down with this song, stop now; the
rest of the album follows suit. In fact the only track that sounds
anything like Logic is “Baby Blues,” a song that features Metric
frontwoman Emily Haines singing along throughout. Haines even pitches
in on this gut-sockingly bad line: “I’m into looks/ But I’m also into
books.” Trust me; it comes across even worse when sung.
The members of the Stills got themselves into a Catch-22 situation when they released Logic Will Break Your Heart
in 2003; putting out a similar-sounding follow-up would have left them
as equally maligned. Though there was one loophole the band could have
exploited: Put out a good record.