Drowners are a leather jacket-donning, New York-based band fronted by an ex-pat Welsh male model and named after the debut single of Britpop titans Suede – the suave man’s Pulp, who in turn were the thinking man’s Blur, who were in turn the sentient man’s Oasis.
These are the first things anyone ever mentions when talking about Drowners, probably because they are undeniably cool qualities for a 21st century indie band to possess. Say someone were to ask a focus group to produce a brainstorm entitled ‘Components of Ideal 21st Century Indie Band’ on a flipchart in a record label boardroom somewhere. The phrases ‘leather jacket’, ‘New York’, ‘male model’ and ‘slyly referential band name’ would almost certainly crop up in some form or other – though ‘Welsh’, admittedly, probably wouldn’t. Sorry, boyos.
The problem with Drowners is that this sense of calculated cool extends to their music, which makes it sort of hard to take it seriously. If some shady Cowell-alike media svengali had been given a brief around the year 2004 to put together the next big guitar band, complete with a checklist of generic early ‘00s guitar band features to help them on their way, whatever he or she came up with would probably look and sound a lot like Drowners.
Short, punchy tunes (the album sees the band zipping through 12 songs in under half an hour, the longest clocking in at just over three minutes)? Check. Jingly jangly guitars and simple, heavily repetitive choruses designed for maximum singalongability and earwormishness (these are technical terms)? Check. Presence in almost every song of some shadowy, stonehearted female who has the gall to be off flirting with somebody else, the callous bitch (“I drove myself half to death wondering who you woke up with” – Well, People Will Talk)? Check. Vaguely zeitgeisty lyrics, possibly critiquing the increasing homogeneity within the so-called ‘indie’ scene but equally possibly just making a trite observation about the length of people’s hair (“All the girls have long hair, and all the boys have long hair” – Long Hair)? Check. It’s all here. Full house. Bingo!
The 12 songs on the record are all high-energy, high-polish affairs that mash up the spiky The Strokes and The Libertines-headed garage of the last decade with the sparkling ‘80s indie pop riffs of The Smiths and Orange Juice. Frontman Matt Fitt’s voice is eerily almost dead-on halfway between the bored drawl of Julian Casablancas and the sweet slurring of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. On paper this all sounds like a dream ticket, but in practice it comes across more like your local lad-rock band doing a series of meticulously-rehearsed covers in the pub – a sort of indie-by-numbers, brazen pastiche rather than subtle nod.
When Fitt sings about “the boy done wrong” in album closer Shell Across The Tongue, or mumbles “fuck it” in Watch You Change, it feels carefully considered rather than natural, the spirit of Barat and Doherty coldly co-opted in the hope that a little of their ramshackle glamour will rub off. Similarly, there are some decent riffs peppered around the album, but they’re decent because they’re Smiths imitations, right down to the recreation of Johnny Marr’s pin-sharp, jangly guitar tone.
Drowners is a fun little record, if you want to get all patronizing about it, but it’s difficult to get any further than that because of its staggering unoriginality. Drowners may well be in earnest, or they could be a cynical marketing ploy designed to feed off the nostalgia of twentysomethings for the music they listened to as teenagers; it’s sort of hard to tell. Tell you what, though, fans of The Vaccines will be all over it.