When The Rock Of Travolta first appeared back in 2000 it was initially quite difficult to take them entirely seriously. This was a band that assumed amusing pseudonyms, twisted the name and image of John Travolta in quite fantastic fashion and found time to appropriate elements of John Williams‘ Star Wars soundtrack into their music.
When they hit the stage however, they exploded, becoming one of the most exciting live bands in the country and frequently blowing established acts such as the incendiary …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead off the stage. It was in a live setting that they truly made sense. Their barrages of distorted guitars rutting up against cellos, and keyboards sounding like a horny Iggy Pop in the Classical section of HMV.
But trying to condense their brand of post-rock apocalypse into a studio recording was problematic. Previous albums My Band Is Better Than Yours and Uluru struggled to contain their vibrancy. Indeed, the band often sounded like a facsimile of themselves and failed to entirely convince. Fine Lines goes some way to redressing the balance, and is the most coherent album the band has made since its inception. After a rather long hiatus and significant line up change it would appear that The Rock Of Travolta are finally ready to start gathering the plaudits that they richly deserve.
Kicking off with the strident Rock By Numbers they leap straight for the jugular. A rumbling mix of discordant guitar and marching robo-synths it’s an unrelenting blast of invigorating sci-fi tinged chaos. Not so much Rock By Numbers as Binary Rock. It’s a reminder that although The Rock Of Travolta’s music was frequently described as post-rock, they are so much more, as they constantly mess with the template. Not just purveyors of the loud/quiet blueprint, they frequently revel in out-and-out sonic attacks, with little breathing space between the volleys of noise. The form has swollen with similar bands in the years since Uluru, but nobody does it with quite the same exuberance.
Last Night Of The Acolytes exploits the quiet/loud blueprint but does so with a deft touch. A mournful cello intertwines with a delicate guitar pattern before the band kicks off into a driving riff that pulses with pure adrenalin. As more brittle sections are built with apparent timidity, it’s only a matter of time before that gargantuan riff makes an appearance to rip everything to shreds.
The Goddamn Remote utilises boiling synth lines once again, initially mixing them with spidery guitar riffs allowing for a sinister ebb and flow. It soon develops into a quite stunning neo-classical statement of intent, teetering on the brink of rock pomposity and heavenly rapture.
The mournful strings of Happy With What You’re Given provide a perfect backdrop for a brief but welcome return for the poetry of Emily Gray. Her old band, the soundscape art-botherers Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia are still missed terribly. It’s a brief appearance but a reminder of that band’s particularly graceful nuances.
The Rock wrap things up with Attack Formation and Something’s Wrong With The TV Generation. The former spares no punches and launches into a full on assault which retains a sense of hard-edged funk whilst continually ratcheting up the tension. Something’s Wrong is more considered preferring to ease back and forth between quiet contemplation and all out bluster. It’s an ambitious track that could so easily fall flat on its face, but with a smart bass line and a real understanding of dynamics. As with the rest of the album The Rock get it spot on – Fine Lines is indeed a fine return.