“This is a theme for all the boys / Playing guitars and making noise” sings the Cleveland, Ohio group Herzog; and that’s pretty much all you need to know about this album. Herzog are no strangers to the fuzzy indie rock scene – Boys is their second album, and it has the ’90s post-grunge, hard-boiled yet entertained apathy toward modern life that characterized Dinosaur Jr and some of Fugazi. But where those two bands wrote competent, wry allegories on the dullness of middle class life, Herzog offers little in ways of songwriting or lyricism that haven’t been done time and time again.
Plenty of comparisons have been made to Weezer in Herzog’s past, and Boys is no exception – the track Mad Men has almost an identical chord progression to Rivers Cuomo’s Across The Sea On Pinkerton. Cuomo’s success, however, laid in his extremely confrontational and completely bare-all tracks that delve into the psyche of the smart, the bored, and the unloved. Boys has very little of this success; Weezer’s genuine awkwardness made them immediately relatable, whereas Herzog’s stability is forced and unaware of the problems that actually plague twentysomethings.
Saint Scrapyard is a great example of this fault: the track has some fantastic pop punk hooks, but hearing “It’s not my fault!” yelled over and over again sounds more like someone who’s still denying their past rather than owning up to any mistakes. Cuomo knew perfectly well that he couldn’t return to the good old days back in The Good Life (again on Pinkerton), but he had the self-awareness to pull it off.
It’s Hard Getting Old runs into similar territory, being one more song about how getting older is hard because nobody understands that Herzog are still kids on the inside. Lyrics like “I still laugh at fart jokes from sixth grade” and “Lately all my friends just stay at home / So I just go to shows alone” doesn’t have nearly the paunch or humor that made Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again? such an anthem for university 20-somethings. Sure, Blink 182 might’ve been a little too obsessed with farts themselves, but at least they wrote about actual important life events such as sex, adolescent identity crises, and teenage isolation. Herzog writes songs about feeling sorry for themselves but don’t offer many solutions to the problems at hand, and the examples that are discussed are too general to evoke any deeper feelings. An exception is on Teenage Metalhead, where Herzog do look a bit into the harder, rougher side at life while growing up in their hometown, even throwing in a reference to Lou Reed‘s Walk On The Wild Side. The imagery of women walking the streets and townspeople shooting up is quite striking and shows the potential that Herzog has in demonstrating personal hardship.
Perhaps the biggest problem about this album is that it is, quite frankly, blatantly sexist. Lyrics celebrating how they’re writing songs for the boys and that their songs are for the boys who are “playing guitar and making noise” is irresponsible in an age where musicians are tackling gender roles, violence against women, and the perceived image of what men and women should or should not be; for much better commentary on contemporary issues on adolescence, check out White Lung’s newest work Deep Fantasy. Herzog show a worrisome lack of responsibility and accountability on Boys, and the ultimatum “we’re going out so make a choice” on Theme For Boys crosses that awfully fine line between self-celebration and self-aggrandisement.
A legitimately fantastic track is the nigh-seven minute You Are Not The Villain. This track bounces between ecstasy and droning fuzz, and either demonstrates how amazing Herzog can be when they put their minds to more than feeling sorry for their awkward years. However, it comes way too late in the album, and the few instrumental mix-ups here don’t change what has thus far been an instrumentally lacklustre affair. Herzog may revel in being young at heart, but recognising the attributes that make one a man, whatever image that may be, may provide as much precedent for celebrating one’s existence as do those that make one a boy.