It’s hard not to like Deaf Havana. The band formed when they met at school and, while some of the faces have changed since then, they have plugged away with their straightforward brand of rock and built up a dedicated fanbase. Their biggest success came with second album, 2011’s Fools And Worthless Liars, which saw Deaf Havana move away from the punk roots of their debut Meet Me Halfway, At Least.
Following the departure of founding member Ryan Mellor, Fools And Worthless Liars was a far more commercial-friendly record, one that essentially redefined what sort of band Deaf Havana wanted to be. While it marked a substantial change, the album was critically well-received and the band’s new direction – plus new vocalist in James Veck-Gilodi – led to comparisons with Bruce Springsteen, among others.
It is a comparison that continues to persist during Deaf Havana’s third album, suitably titled Old Souls, with the band often sounding like old men trapped in younger bodies. “Everybody’s dancing and I don’t feel the same/ this room is full of people who barley know my name,” sings Veck-Gilodi on Everybody’s Dancing And I Want To Die, a lightweight attempt at trying to emulate Springsteen’s spirit.
As with Old Souls’ predecessor, the lyrics are often focused on disillusionment and angst, contrasting with the consistently uplifting, pop-leaning melodies. Take Lights, where expansive guitar riffs in the mould of the last couple of Kings Of Leon records provide a complete juxtaposition to the song’s sentiment, as Veck-Gilodi sings: “The thoughts in my mind, they never felt more than okay.” Whatever has upset him, he sure can’t let it go.
Subterranean Bullshit Blues – if you couldn’t already tell from the title – continues the unrelenting dissatisfaction, with Veck-Gilodi yelling: “Relief is getting harder to find/ all I know is I’m wasting my time.” Yet while life seems to suck if you’re a member of Deaf Havana, it’s nothing that can’t be solved “with Springsteen in my headphones,” according to Veck-Gilodi on the fist-pumping 22. And that right there sums up the formula for Old Souls.
There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to reach the heights of The Boss, but it’s already been done by The Gaslight Anthem – and done much better. Too often on Old Souls, Deaf Havana sound like fan boys, rather than a band attempting to create a record that is completely their own. Kings Road Ghosts is a perfect example of this lack of individuality, with the spiraling riffs making about as much impact as a feather falling to the ground.
However, when they do get it right, it does sound good, as shown by the infectious lead single Boston Square. It still sounds incredibly dated, with Veck-Gilodi’s vocals at their most bracing, but the thumping beat and thrilling chorus give it more impetus than anything else on the album. Tuesday People and Mildred are also highlights, with the latter, in particular, slowly building momentum before bursting into a playful, invigorating chorus.
Unfortunately, these moments of assurance are all too brief and they get completely overshadowed by cheesy, cringeworthy nonsense such as album closer Caro Padre, which sees Veck-Gilodi repeatedly yell: “I am my father’s son/ it’s clear what I’ve become.” The sentiment may well be genuine, but when it’s backed with a gospel choir it just sounds corny. While Deaf Havana have worked hard to get where they are, there’s no getting away from the fact that Old Souls is a substantial step in the wrong direction.