Flight of the Conchords, Lucy Lawless and Peter Jackson comprise just a few of our favorite New Zealand exports. And now, hailing from the land of endless beaches, kiwi and sheep, is a bustling new foursome going by the name Cut Off Your Hands (which, prior to a Portland lawsuit, was known as Shaky Hands). Three EPs in to its three-year career, the band has already won over massive audiences in New Zealand as well as Australia, courtesy of touring slots on both 2007 and 2008’s Big Day Out festivals. With a full-length release produced by none other than Suede guitarist-cum-uber-producer Bernard Butler (Manic Street Preachers, the Libertines, Duffy), Cut Off Your Hands is dead set on leaving a lasting impression on American audiences, starting with an opening touring slot with Ra Ra Riot and the stateside release of their LP debut, You & I.
Opening with the thunderous gallop of “Happy As Can Be,” a swirling, exhilarating ode to finding love, the track instantly recalls Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” production, Robert Smith’s vocals and the deceptively joyful arrangements of the Smiths. But even with such heavyweight comparisons, it’s hard to discern whether there are traces of irony in the fey, heart-on-sleeve directness of Nick Johnston’s delivery or if this track really is as unapologetically straightforward as it seems.
But that seems to be the point of Cut Off Your Hands. Much unlike the masterfully two-sided wordplay of Morrissey and grim overtones of the Cure, there’s a very good chance that there is no irony to be found in You & I. This is fine on “Happy As Can Be,” which is epically good, as well as other upbeat tracks like “Expectations,” “Turn Cold” and “Let’s Get Out of Here.” Much of the band’s charm lies within its adolescent, open-diary approach to songwriting, not to mention its impeccable ear for melody and ability to whip up a killer chorus. But the sincere-to-a-fault artifice that makes up the majority of the song’s subject matter overwhelms too early on to sustain You & I as a long-playing mainstay.
So much of the focus of the album is placed on lovelorn teen infatuation — in this case the chief romantic interest is solely referred to as “girl” — that a little humor and wry observation would have done a world of good. By the time we arrive at the insufferable “In the Name of Jesus Christ,” a track as dull as the title suggests, we find ourselves yearning for a little Morrissey-infused drama, something, anything, to substantiate interest.
Unfortunately, the bad tracks merely remind us that for all Cut Your Hands Off’s brazen energy, towering sound, and melodious verse-chorus one-two punch attack, it’s the subject of the songs that ultimately bores. Which is a shame, because most of the time, these guys get everything else so damn right.