The Darkness may take barrages of criticism from mainstream critics, but one thing the Lowestoft lads can rightfully claim without any form of unwarranted attack is that they are quintessentially British. Reuben, however, have been contaminated with an ugly virus that has travelled from America and spread into the minds of far too many British rock bands.
The self-financed debut album from the hard-rock Surrey trio sounds like it has been made by a group of California high school graduates who spend their evenings playing music in their parents’ garage, while listening to grunge and yearning to achieve that first hit song.
Regardless of three decent singles, Racecar Is Racecar Backwards has few moments of inspiration. It tries to update an old sound but ends up recycling verbatim the same grunge/’90s American rock scene that a million other bands have tried and where only a handful have achieved with memorable results.
The album fails to get that mighty unavoidable punch in the guts largely because of the distinct lack of any momentous riffs and the tedious ‘fast then slow’ pace of the songs. Added to that, Jamie Lenman’s screeching vocals sound out of place and often drown the band. On moments he sounds like he is covering Dani Filth for the infamous black metal band, then the next minute he’s much more relaxed and laid back. Lenman can sing well enough but his vocals fluctuate so much that he fails to captivate.
The black-metal style screaming on Missing Fingers and Stuck In My Throat added with kitsch song titles like Horror Show and Freddy Krueger would make you think Reuben could comfortably record soundtracks for cheesy horror films – it only adds more confusion to their muffled sound and image.
There is some groovy bass-riffing from Jon Pearce particularly on Eating Only Apples and the aforementioned Freddy Krueger; but perhaps the most gifted member of the band is drummer Guy Davis. He proves himself to be quite a talented sticks man showing some rock-solid drumming that is as tight as a boxer’s clenched fist. Much of the album is augmented by Davis’ migraine generated drumming: listen to No One Wins The War, Tonight My Wife Is Your Wife and Our Song for proof of his head-pounding rhythm sections.
Their sound is certainly rock with a capital R, but it’s hard to actually define. There is nothing new or groundbreaking here, it seems confused as if they don’t know which avenue to take, but maybe that is all part of the journey. Like many bands that make their first album, they’re experimenting with different styles trying to find the right keyhole.
Racecar Is Racecar Backwards is exhaustive more than it is original and interesting. Yet despite such accusations it cannot be denied that Reuben are talented musicians and this is just the first of what will probably be a full shelf of records. They need to be more inventive, change their approach and have a more consistent style that is recognizable as their own and not some decade old band from the other side of the Atlantic.