Chris Shiflett is the lead guitarist of the Foo Fighters, and judging by this effort to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, it’s probably best to remember him that way. Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants is a pretty mediocre attempt at independence from the Foo Fighters legacy.
The album is cemented firmly in the field of country-rock, but offers no fresh perspective to an often tired genre that, in this case, is laid on pretty thick. The album is very much Neil Young inspired classic rock that is stuck in the middle of the road that Young eventually grew to despise, famously quoting that he decided to “head for the ditch”. Shiflett, on this evidence, is yet to be made aware there is a ditch to be explored; he’s so stuck in cruise control he can’t create a sound that’s interesting at all.
One major problem with the album – and there are many – is that Shiflett’ voice does not offer the listener anything to be engrossed by. It’s a voice that is too familiar, stuck within a sound that lacks any originality. Some of the songs may have been more remarkable had a front man such as Jim James sung them, like An Atheist’s Player for example; but even then you’d probably still be lamenting a poor effort by My Morning Jacket‘s high standards.
There are few plus points. One that sticks out is the lovely lap steel from Greg Leisz (Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown), who tries so hard throughout each song, and often in vain, to retain the listener’s attention. God Damn is probably the best of a bad bunch due the way that the mandolin and some heavily distorted guitar collide during the bridges which, in contrast with the rest of the album, sounds like a pretty intuitive piece of instrumentation.
But there’s no rescuing the lyrics. As with the inevitability of the ebbing and flowing of the tides, country-rock too often engrosses itself with the idea of driving through the dust-ball states, on the open road. “I chase the stars, the crashing cars,” whines Shiflett on God Damn and “I’ve been to California, I’ve been to new South West, sometimes I pull over, realise I’ve left no trace” he laments pretty unconvincingly on Burning Lights. Shiflett is occupied in perpetuating the same kind of imagery that appears in songs that sound exactly the same.
It must be pretty daunting for someone so used to occupying the side of the stage to suddenly be thrust to the front. Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes pops to mind and, despite being a half decent songwriter, he still suffered a pretty ordinary reception in the press. Chris Shiflett has been a bit of a serial offender in this sense, fronting other bands such as Jackson United. His bravery may be admirable, but this album certainly isn’t.