Band Of Skulls - Sweet Sour

Band Of Skulls: jack of all trades, master of one.

Label: PIAS.

Rating: 6

Around a decade ago Band Of Skulls would have had to have come from Detroit, so seamless is their connection to that whole garage rock revival that featured The White Stripes, The Von Bondies and The Detroit Cobras. As it is though, victims of existential injustice, the three piece are Southampton natives and the raw, intense sound of guitars is as out of favour as the mini-disc or 4-4-2. It is a changed world; the garage rock landscape of 2011 is something of a barren wasteland, dominated by the monolithic bluesy presence of The Black Keys.

As the saying goes “If you can’t beat them join them”, well Band Of Skulls are soon to be playing a venue near you in support of Auerbach and Carney duo. That said Band Of Skulls will still be generating their own excitement, having bagged an iTunes single of the week and a fairly positive reaction to 2008’s debut ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey’ and music credits in Hollyoaks-with-vampires blockbuster, ‘Twilight’.

Title track ‘Sweet Sour’ opens their second album and, despite being disappointingly uninvolved with oriental food, introduces itself as an early candidate for album highlight. Driving guitars propelled by an insistent drum line lead us climatically to the chorus, ending in the achingly-catchy lyric “You’re sour by the minute, but sweet about an hour”. Second track ‘Bruises’ plays with the idea of being quiet and deliberate before returning to reliable bombast, the changes in dynamics are as much worrying as they are engaging, leaving me fearful for how the quieter songs of the album will fare. A fear answered swiftly and disappointingly by dull third track ‘Lay My Head Down’ which seems oddly unmoving given the vocal interplay of Russel Marsden and Emma Richardson. Fourth track ‘The Devil Takes Care Of His Own’ sees a return to the chaos, the dual vocals seem much better served by the raw and cutting riff. All in all it proves Band Of Skulls can write very good loud songs (although it’s a shame ‘Death By Diamonds And Pearls’ remains unmatched in their output) and not particularly fantastic songs when the knobs are turned down. I could make the suggestion, albeit unpopular, that a skillset similar to that did Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters and arguably even Yeah Yeah Yeahs no harm. This is only confirmed by the energy contained in ‘Lies’ and ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It’ when compared to another couple of dreary tracks ‘Hometowns’ and ‘Close To Nowhere’.

However all hope should not be abandoned yet, as the one track to offer any new insight is sixth track ‘Navigate’, a quiet slow-building track with the same compelling qualities as Interpol’s ‘The New’ and Foals’ ‘Spanish Sahara’ while sounding not much like either. It’s graceful, vulnerable and delicate and if Band Of Skulls could bottle that as well as they unerringly repeat their garage rock swagger then they’d have an album worthy of any praise. As it is they have an album worthy of repeated listens but limited by its inability to adapt and enrapture a change of pace often just representing a drop in quality. As a closing line it seems but harsh but also fair, until they can write at least another song like ‘Navigate’; Band Of Skulls: jack of all trades, master of one.