Cast your mind back 10 years to the months immediately post The Strokes, when the UK was in the grip of the so-called ‘New Rock Revolution’. That phrase may have been a music media concoction full of typical hyperbole but there certainly was a grain of truth in that a number of rock bands were enjoying hitherto unprecedented amounts of attention. New Zealand’s The Datsuns were at the very forefront of that movement and, while the likes of Jet, The Von Bondies and The Beatings have long since been consigned to the footnotes of history, The Datsuns are commendably still around, ploughing that same garage rock furrow with their fifth album Death Rattle Boogie.
It’s an album that sounds exactly as you may expect it to sound. It is very much a basic garage rock record. By the time you reach the end of the second track you have already heard around five largely similar guitar solos. There is little room for sophistication or experimentation for The Datsuns. They stick to what they know best – big dumb rock thrills.
Hoary old rock clichés abound on an album that pays typical reverence to the classic reference points of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and a great many other ’70s hard rock bands. The careering thrust of tracks like Gods Are Bored is initially mildly thrilling but offers nothing in the way of lasting pleasure. Yet despite the dearth of creative inspiration the band sound extremely tight and are at the peak of their powers. Singer and bassist Dolf De Borst is in fine voice as he leads his men on their merry way throughout Death Rattle Boogie’s mind-bogglingly long 14 tracks.
There is a small degree of progression though that shines through, like a beacon among the trad rock riffs and glam workouts. The psych rock of the diverting Shadow Looms Large is reminiscent of their antipodean neighbours Tame Impala and shows the potential that the band still have. Elsewhere, Wander The Night has a great slinky groove that is illuminated by some winding guitar solos that really do add something to the track for once. These tracks represent the very best of The Datsuns. A few more like them would have been very welcome.
Perhaps the main problem is the album’s length. The second half is terribly bogged down in interminable guitar soloing and witless rock workouts, the nadir being the repeated chorus hook of Helping Hands. You feel the album would make far more of an impression if it had been cut down to 10 tracks.
The Datsuns are undeniably committed to their own sound, no matter how reverential it is, and there are moments when the sheer force of their hard rock guitars cannot fail to invigorate as on the closing track Death Of Me. There is an inescapable feeling though that they could be capable of so much more. There is a lightness lacking. Perhaps some of the personality and fun that The Hives inject into their similarly retro based rock would not go amiss.
Death Rattle Boogie is an album that resolutely sticks to the sound that first established The Datsuns in those heady days of 2002, with few deviations. When change does come it works well, but there are far too few of those moments over the course of the album.