In music there is a fine line between good different and bad different. Some bands are able to push the boundaries of what has already been established sound wise and create their own unique brand of music. Other bands seemingly try too hard to place themselves “outside the box” and create a sound that’s really not all that appealing at all. The XX Teens are a band that falls more under the latter category than the former.
Welcome to Goon Island is the debut album from London’s XX Teens. At its core Goon Island is a fairly average indie rock album with a few good hooks and even a catchy melody or two, but once you move away from the core of the disc you end up running into some undesirable excess. Unnecessary sound effects, dead end song structures and a rather annoying ramble of a vocal really put a damper on some of the more promising tracks that are scattered throughout the record.
Vocalist Rich Cash, who at times seems as if he’s trying to make a relevant social or political statement, comes off as more of a bumbling drunk; his whine of a vocal becomes only more grating as the disc rolls on. On a few of the songs another singer, Anthony Silvester, takes over in an attempt try and save face, but his efforts are largely a moot point.
Cash’s incessant ramblings turn from lost loves, biblical stories and indistinguishable parables into just down right odd songwriting. If Cash’s “favorite hat” is a metaphor for something deep and poignant in the song of the same name, then it’s lost on me. But whatever the hat may be, it’s important enough to turn down sex in order to continue his search for it. On the other hand, the song “Darlin’” is as catchy as hell, but features a whole page full of slurred vocals on top of an infectious horn section and an interlude of steel drums. After exclaiming that they’re getting “Down assed dirty old style,” Rich proceeds to retell some sort of joke about the letters A and B and then commences to let us know that “The Chinese are coming!” Yet he still has the gall to say that “I never get drunk with a pen in my hand.” Sure you don’t…
The best songs on Goon Island are ironically the one that starts the album and the one that ends it. “The Way We Were” starts off the disc with a burst of energy, wisely using a dual vocal technique that doesn’t put too much emphasis on either singer. It’s a rather inconspicuous first track, with a nice guitar hook and a catchy chorus that deceives the listener into thinking this is going to end up being a fairly normal indie rock album. After an ensuing investment of highs and lows, the album closer “For Brian Haw” is the style of music that I think best fits the XX Teens. It’s hard and fast, leaving no time to dabble in Cash’s words. The song is mostly a rocking jam, featuring drummer Ross Orton wailing away at his trap set while a healthy dose of guitar and synth drive the track home. It’s the perfect closing track to an otherwise utterly disappointing album.
Whether or not Rich Cash and the rest of the band are truly attempting to be “different” within the suddenly mainstream indie rock crowd is a point that can be argued, but the XX Teen’s Welcome to Goon Island sadly does little more than produce a fundamentally flat and non-cohesive sound. It’s just a case of the band’s sounds not working all that well together. You’ll find a few tracks worth listening to, but taking a trip to Goon Island shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list.
"Welcome to Goon Island" is on sale September 30, 2008 from Mute.