Just over a year since they burst onto the scene with their brilliant debut album, Camden four-piece Tribes are back with their second album, Wish To Scream. For many, Tribes’ success in 2012 was a surprise, but Baby was packed full of massive anthems that lit up the festival scene last summer. Their ’90s-indebted glam rock was not breaking any boundaries, yet it was uncompromising and exciting.
Rather than take time off following a job well done, Tribes decided to get straight back into the studio for album number two – an approach seemingly favoured by many new bands these days. The initial signs suggested that Wish To Scream would see Tribes continue where they left off, with first single Dancehall a melodic and woozy summer anthem. But the record is not nearly as straightforward as that.
Produced by Kevin Augunas (Cold War Kids) and recorded at the famed Sound City Studio in LA, where Nirvana’s Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours were brought to life, Tribes have looked to evolve their sound and move forward. The change is not drastic by any means, but the gritty rock of songs such as the Pixies-inspired We Were Children are all but absent on Wish To Scream.
The second single How The Other Half Live is the closest Tribes get to the heavier rock of their debut, with a magnificent, dirty guitar riff that wouldn’t sound amiss on a Primal Scream record. “Give it, give it, give it/ you gotta give it some time,” growls frontman Johnny Lloyd, as the song moves towards its celebratory conclusion. However, from there on in, Wish To Scream lacks the energy and driving guitar riffs of Baby.
Wrapped Up In A Carpet captures the laid-back vibe that runs throughout most of the album, with a checkered beat and melodic acoustic guitar riff dominating the song until a burst of saxophone towards the end. Then there’s the mid-tempo rocker Get Some Healing, which although perfectly nice, doesn’t leave a mark in the same way as Corner Of An English Field or Halfway Home did on Tribes’ debut.
Elsewhere, Looking For Shangri-La is a slow, sprawling sing-a-long – one that is clearly primed and ready for the festival season – until it is unfortunately ruined by the dreaded gospel choir coming in at the end. Englishman On Sunset Boulevard also utilises the choir to provide backing vocals to Lloyd’s corny lyrics, as he sings: “All you need is imagination/ so come on kid/ tell them how it is.” Uplifting? Yes. Thrilling? Not so much.
It certainly seems as though Tribes have embraced the soulful and bluesy American sound for Wish To Scream, but while it is a brave move to alter their already successful formula, too many of the songs are passive and unmemorable. Never Heard Of Graceland takes another American influence, with more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Springsteen, although it also happens to be one of the more effective songs.
There is no doubting the ambition of Wish To Scream and Tribes have shown that they are more than just one trick ponies. But compared to Baby, the whole album just feels a bit pedestrian. And nothing captures the meandering nature of the record better than the melancholic closer Street Dancin’, which finishes everything off with a disappointing and unremarkable whimper.
Tribes’ return is not necessarily bad – the record does consolidate their status as an up-and-coming guitar band – but it’s hard to get away from the fact that Wish To Scream sounds rather lightweight up against their anthemic and guitar-heavy debut. In the end, it’s proof that jumping straight back into the studio is not always the best policy.