They may have a reputation for hedonistic immaturity, but The Orwells have had a precocious musical career. The Chicago-suburb garage rockers released their enjoyably brattish debut album Remember When before they’d even left high school. Moving to a major record label didn’t knock the edges off their raucous sophomore Disgraceland. Three years on, but still disgracefully young in their early 20s, the band’s third album Terrible Human Beings is now out. How much have they grown up?
Well, not too much – thank goodness. Singer Mario Cuomo’s lyrics do reveal more mature reflection rather than just revelling in youthful debauchery, though the slightly shambolic charm is still present and incorrect. Apart from the last track, Terrible Human Beings is made up of mainly raunchy, sub-three-minute songs with muscular guitar hooks that grab you straight away and plenty of catchy choruses to sing along to. The album doesn’t take The Orwells to another musical level but, produced by Jim Abbiss (who worked with them previously), it makes for fun listening.
The band are happy to acknowledge that Pixies have been a big influence on this album in particular. It’s most apparent on first single Buddy, which packs a helluva lot of punch into less than one and half a minutes of fizzing energy. Heavy Head depicts a violent nightmare hostage scenario ‒ “So take me to the desert / And chop off my heavy, heavy head” ‒ with its grotesque imagery matched by Pixieish off-kilter guitar chords. Funnily enough the song Black Francis, The Orwells’ explicit tribute to The Pixies’ main man ‒ “Black Frankie’s got my world in his hands” ‒ doesn’t actually sound much like their heroes.
The standout track is the fuzzy opener They Put A Body In The Bayou, a sinister tale of sleazy sex and drugs mired in corrupt authority, with screeching guitars and shuddering feedback (later given a brief psyched-up reprise with echoing voices).
Elsewhere, there are signs that Cuomo is becoming more self-aware and observant. Creatures is a dark depiction of broken lives and animalistic regression, where “My friends are dead ends” and “Before you know it, you’re livin’ in a hole”. The vaguely political Vacation condemns unspecified “failed promises” and passive acceptance, but self-questions, “Could be a better a way to right these wrongs / Than drinking heavily and writing songs”. And M.A.D. mocks mindless conformity to the system.
A few tracks fail to make much of an impact, but the closer Double Feature (at over seven minutes more than twice as long as any other song) certainly does, in this portrait of the “wrong side of the tracks” where Cuomo bemoans, “Should’ve been a doctor or a lawyer”. Here there is clear evidence of development as the band stretch their musical muscles, featuring more varied vocals and a fine extended instrumental passage in the middle with rumbling bass and needling guitar work. Perhaps this points towards The Orwells’ future direction.