Parquet Courts’ fifth studio album – sixth if you include 2014’s Content Nausea released as Parkay Quarts – was produced by Danger Mouse and, unsurprisingly, it’s occasionally quite a departure from what’s gone before. The quartet led by Andrew Savage leave one foot firmly entrenched in punk but the slacker rock tag now seems all but misplaced, the band instead branching out in several directions that makes for their most eclectic collection to date.
Despite its title suggesting a homage to the Dutch footballing greats of the 1970s led by Johan Cruyff and Ajax of Amsterdam, Total Football is a classic, raw punk cut bookended by slow, sludgy sections that give just a whiff of that old slacker rock tag, albeit briefly. Teenage Kicks-like guitars are a highlight but – and this becomes a trend throughout many of the 13 tracks – the bass steals the show by providing the tracks best and most melodic moments. Bass again takes centre stage for Violence alongside some interesting ‘electric shock’ guitar bursts, but the funky number is guilty of ramming too many lyrics into too small a space.
Freebird II emulates Vienna II from 2014’s Sunbathing Animal in naming a classic single and then sounding nothing like its namesake, but it’s still one of the better tracks here with another prominent bassline present. Before The Water Gets Too High utilises the bass well again, this time to pick out a pumping melody, and is a contender for best track here, being a slower, less punky cut boasting additional keyboard chords whilst Mardi Gras Beads recalls ’60s psychedelics with some tinkling Byrds-like background guitars before more crunchy stuff kicks in.
Elsewhere, the diversity on offer enjoys differing results. The hybrid Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience stutters along in spiky fashion before segueing into a faster, more classic punk sound. The title track sounds completely out of place, being the most off-centre effort here with its ’70s funky disco beat an oddity and closer Tenderness will surprise with its ’70s folk rock feel driven by a great piano line, but otherwise it lacks spark. Death Will Bring Change is a dull bore but Back To Earth is much more interesting, its slow, mysterious vibe and pounding bass creating a melodic piece, but it’s cut too short too soon.
Short, sharp punk staples eventually appear via NYC Observation, Normalization and Extinction but by this time the switching between styles has become the overriding factor listeners need to deal with, as you’re never quite sure what’s around the corner, which must be a first for a Parquet Courts album. Wide Awake is certainly not their best, but it is their most wide ranging and as such, it could just be one that splits the hardcore fanbase right down the middle.