Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Jet - Shaka Rock Album Review (2009)

The new album from Australian rock band Jet. A review for The Music Magazine.

Oh Jet, how we have missed you. Has it really been three years since the last album? After a decent debut (Get Born) and some solid singles (Are You Gonna Be My Girl and Rollover DJ), Jet brought an acceptable level of 70s influenced rock at a time when indie was dead and Oasis were growing up and getting boring (see Heathen Chemistry). The band shook things up and reminded us of when The Rolling Stones were good (ironically the band ended up supporting The Stones on tour which must have been a joy for all involved...). And the band never looked back, or forward, as the new album shows. Some music is beyond analysis, so much so that no manner of critical dissection and scrutiny will uncover anything more than first impressions reveal. Shaka Rock is just not very good.

The biggest let down is the lyrics. Unintelligent and obvious clichés mix with trite pseudo-rhyming and truly horrible scansion on every track. This is beautifully demonstrated on big opener K.I.A (subtitled Killed In Action just in case you don't know what the acronym means): "I live in the middle of a combat zone, I'm too scared to pick up the phone; I went to the market to fill up my heart, now I'm in a coma; state of the art". As an opening line it's pretty terrible and things don't get much better. Musically it's not bad and the chorus packs a punch even if Chester is singing about supermarkets, 4x4s and ditches full of VCRs.

When Shaka Rock is bad, it's really bad. Beat On Repeat is The Clash taking the piss out of LCD Soundsystem. Black Hearts (On Fire) goes from limp-wrist to disjointed hopeless mess. Seventeen doesn't know what it is, a mixed up fusion of laboured guitars, lame chorus and relentless pounding piano. But La Di Da sums up the approach perfectly. It starts ok, all spiky guitars and spitting lyrics, until we get the line: "I don't know anymore what I need and what for, all I know is there must be something more". Stop wondering and find it! Onward, Walk is astonishingly awful, blending the stylised swagger of Kasabian with the vacuous nonsense of PJ and Duncan. Times Like This reworks The Doobie Brothers and has the most bizarre shouty chorus. "From the Hollywood Hills to Ecuador, everyone's the same when they hit the floor". Again, another apt line. "Times like this, you need your rock 'n' roll" will have you reaching for the latest Dance Anthems compilation. If there is a better Bryan Adams rip-off this century than Let Me Out then it's not worth hearing.

Shaka Rock has it's moments. She's A Genius kicks off like The Black Keys. Fantastic! But the cool muddy guitar riff is the only redeeming feature. Chester's over-the-top vocals vomit over everything and leave your pounding hangover aching for something stronger than codeine. The final minute is a master class of simple, full-on, in-yer-face pop-rock. Goodbye Hollywood tries so hard to be good but ends up a bad Counting Crows imitation. Even when the band escape the shackles of the past, they just move a bit further into the recent past. The song concludes with another decent last minute; free flowing and genuinely good. Start The Show will be the new gig opener - it's that obvious. All but the last minute (that's three decent minutes!) is horrible before a massive guitar ending kicks in. You can almost picture the accompanying light-show.

Shaka Rock ends well but it's too little too late. She Holds A Grudge is an honest open-hearted love song and the best writing on the album. Within the pseudo-country backing is a proper song trying to escape a band that are painfully out of ideas.

But one thing remains the biggest dividing line: lead singer Nic Chester. He is both the driving force of the band and the constant irritation bellowing the vocals when a more subtle approach is required. Even in the quieter moments, Jet's vocalist turns it up to eleven and then finds one more notch on the amp. Chester's voice is a constant and nagging problem. So is the band's reluctance to move forward and stop recycling the past. Retro is great if you turn it into something new and interesting. It's a shame then that Shaka Rock tries so hard and does too much. Call it irony, call it having fun, call it retro-rock-chic (actually, probably not), it doesn't work unless the songs are good. Sadly, predictably and ultimately, they are not.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

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