Named after the small, continuous lines of bumps along the edge of the road to prevent motorists wandering off-road and falling asleep, The Rumble Strips have always preferred taking the road less-travelled along their brief lifespan so far. Formed from childhood friends in the West Country town of Tavistock they were torn between two bands, with vocalist Charlie Waller (ex of Vincent Vincent and the Villains) dividing his time between both before plumping for his childhood cohorts.
Trading as an old-fashioned four-piece, there is an unspoken fifth member of The Rumble Strips, which appears to be, by their press pictures, a ruddy big drum which they’ve been carting about across the country for no particular reason like some form of punishment, which could as it turns out be a metaphor for the album experience…
So, Girls and Weather eh? Unpredictable to the last; but don’t we Brits just love ’em? Cut from the same pop-ulist cloth as those other rogues the Kaiser Chiefs, The Zutons or even (shudder) The Ordinary Boys, the ‘Strips serve up a slice of hearty soulful ska-inflected pop that is brass and bouncy like a collie dog, but may not be as smart as it thinks it is. So they may be able to jump a somersault, but they’ll still poo in your shoes.
Lest you forget, The Rumble Strips HAVE HORNS and they bludgeon you with them for the first three tracks before they run out of puff. Not that you’d notice much difference between the opening trio, all beat-driven, yelping vocals and directionless ‘joie de vivre’. When he sings “I’m lying on my back looking at the clouds” on the later Clouds, you almost wish a gull would poop in his mouth to shut his yelp up for a second.
Charlie Waller’s vocals could be the deciding factor in whether you can tolerate his resemblance to a histrionic, yelping Kevin Rowland (before he went bonkers and started wearing frocks) or Johnny Borrell (before he went bonkers and started wearing white trews) or not. With their tramp chic, and brass-laden soul-rebel stompers they’ve been studying those original awkward ’80s popsters Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Thankfully, when they discover a different gear on Girls and Boys In Love they show off a summery swing tune that begs for windows to be opened, pianos to be tinkled and thighs to be slapped. Similarly, the acoustic strum and harmony-fight of Don’t Dumb Down suggests they do just that, for when stripped back to basics they make a jolly (like early Supergrass) if not original noise that bears repeated listening.
When it does work is on the tongue-in-cheek Motorcycle, which nods to Queen and even the falsetto and campness that would put The Darkness to shame. Not for a while has there been a decent ode to two-wheel travel as passionate as this about traveling on a “big loud glistening speeding machine”. Even if it is imaginary, it’ll have soul boys stomping along to its beat-driven pleasures.
You could never accuse The Rumble Strips of creating music to snooze by as they raise a flutter of interest, but with an album of similar-sounding tunes they still have some heights to aspire to. So while they aren’t ‘middle of the road’ yet, their rumble needs to find a direction of their own before finding their speed limit.