The Brit-indie explosion of the 2000s was one of the most scene-defining moments in recent memory. The rise and fall of The Libertines, the iconoclastic Arctic Monkeys, flash-in-the-pan classics turned in by the now-diminished Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party – it was a special time, at least to an outsider, of a rejuvenated rock ‘n’ roll canon. But then the copycats followed, internal struggles tore bands apart at the seams, and Kele released a solo album. It’s 2011, the fertility is gone, and the world has refocused on more individualized outlets.
But The Guilty Hands is most certainly a rock band, in the sense that they could’ve sprouted up right alongside the formerly fresh faces now releasing their fourth or fifth efforts. They run the gauntlet through weathered UK staples; glossy dance-rock, sprightly guitar-pop, proggy interludes – never finding a real identity for themselves or for their debut Desire On A Short Leash. This album is not going to revitalize anything, but it is an interesting character study of cultivated group of new bands coming up under modern influences and trying to find direction.
They do put their best foot forward. The robo-rock swagger of opener Razor is easily the band’s best song; centered on a static-flecked vocal sample, they muscle their way through a synthed-up frenzy that’s thoroughly designed for a rock club – right down to the “cut cut! slash slash!” shout-along refrain. It’s not necessarily anything new; songs like these were almost entirely responsible for puncturing the indie-mainstream schism. But The Guilty Hands’ take is polished to a mirror shine, like a product of all those inspirations condensed into a dense, four-minute jam.
Besides that it’s mostly just melodrama. Props for outsized goofiness, and The Guilty Hands at least try to work on a grander scale than their cohorts, but no amount of glitz or stagecraft can overcome the schmaltzy, almost yuletide flamenco guitar-ballad The Wilder Shores Of Love, one of the most graceless mid-album moments you’ll hear all year. At other times they’re less dramatic than dull, the flavourless hooks of Up On The Hill (No 42) and their namesake song Guilty Hands are prime examples of why this sound burnt out in the first place.
Desire On A Short Leash fails more than it succeeds, but it at least fails interestingly; despite the occasional moments of insipid safeness – they do have a sense of glorious, doomed ambition – it makes them supportable at the very least. The spaghetti-western guitar brushes on Meat, the stupid-grandiloquent behemoth of Black Doves, the sheer peculiarity of The Killing Of Isla Nicholson, most of these are pretty terrible ideas, but that’s a lot more respectable than keeping music tastelessly out of harm’s way. In the end it’s a record that’s hard to like, but easy to appreciate – which is a lot more than can be said for plenty of bands taking credence from similar authorities.