“Guitar music is dead. DEAD. It has ceased to be. We are doomed to a lifetime of manufactured pop music created by Simon Cowell and David Guetta. We will never hear that sweet clang of a Gibson or Fender ever again”.
“Oh hang on, here comes this band. They’re young, white, male and dress in black. Hurrah! Guitar music is saved!”
“Hmmmm. That band we thought were saving guitar music have turned out to be not very good. Damn. Guitar music is dead. DEAD. It has ceased to be…”
Repeat, ad nasueum, until the end of time.
It’s that unenviable situation that the Palma Violets have stumbled on, finding themselves anointed, through no fault of their own, as the new saviours of British guitar music. Their live shows are chaotic, frantic affairs, creating the kind of bond between artist and audience not seen since the early days of Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines, and last year’s terrific single Best Of Friends was named Track Of The Year by NME. No pressure then, lads.
So, stepping away from the hype for a moment, are the Palma Violets any good? The answer is an undeniable yes, but with qualifications: if you play 180 expecting to hear something revolutionary and extraordinary, you’ll be disappointed. This is perfectly competent garage rock played perfectly well – but, like that other recent great white hopes of indie, The Vaccines, it’s nothing you haven’t heard millions of times before.
Best Of Friends still sounds utterly exhilarating though. Powered along by Sam Fryer’s superb guitar riff, it’s the sort of song which has you bellowing along with the chorus the first time you hear it, and makes for the perfect statement of intent to open the album. It’s followed by the other track which has helped to garner their reputation, Step Up For The Cool Cats – it’s not as frantic and exciting, but it demonstrates another side to them, and Fryers and bandmate Chili Jesson show exactly where the Barat/Doherty comparisons come from.
Yet after that excellent double-whammy, 180 seems to fall apart a bit. It’s not bad exactly, it just feels a bit rushed and half-finished. Producer Steve MacKay (formerly of Pulp, of course) has given the songs a pleasingly lo-fi, slightly ramshackle feel but there are a few too many tracks that don’t leave that much of an impression, even after countless listens. It’s especially noticeable halfway through the record, where it gets to the point that you’re a bit disappointed that Last Of The Summer Wine isn’t a cover version of the old TV programme’s theme tune.
When they play to their strengths though, there’s a lot to enjoy about Palma Violets – Chicken Dippers may have the world’s worst title, but it builds up superbly before exploding in a burst of energy, and We Found Love (no relation to the Rihanna song) constantly second-guesses you, with its stop-start rhythm, howling chorus and a superb coda where Fryers seems to actually start crooning. Tom The Drum, meanwhile, is just a whole load of fun, a track designed to throw yourself around the dancefloor to, built on a spectacularly bouncy bassline.
It’s just a shame then that there are also anonymous plodders like Johnny Bagga’ Donuts (Palma Violets really need to work on their song titles) and Three Stars which slow down the momentum of the album. The impression lingers that if 180 had been an EP rather than a full-length album, the talent of the band would have been allowed more time to evolve.
It’s a problem evidenced by the last track, 14, which harks back to the glory days of Best Of Friends – another brilliantly bellowed anthem, but which is then followed by a ‘hidden track’, New Song, another track which sounds half-written with a presumably ironic chorus of “I’ve got a brand new song, it’s gonna be number one”. It’s that inconsistency which plagues 180 and means that while Palma Violets have certainly got talent, their debut falls just short of the expectations that’s been ladled on it.