Album Reviews

XX Teens – Welcome To Goon Island

(Mute) UK release date: 28 July 2008

XX Teens - Welcome To Goon Island XX Teens are a five-piece from London whose musical manifesto is to add some depth and technicolour joy to the musical landscape. Their words, not mine. Welcome To Goon Island is their debut album.

Welcome To Goon Island begins in a dreamland, with a harp solemnly providing a gentle fanfare for XX Teens. This psychedelia is short lived as the bouncy drums (that for a moment are reminiscent of Radiohead‘s Electioneering) and dirt cool bass of The Way We Were destroy the quiet ambience of before and kick off Welcome To Goon Island promisingly.

The early momentum is lost quickly with B-52, which, despite its racing, pseudo-drum and bass drum sequencing, doesn’t really go anywhere. The throbbing, tribal rhythm section and glitzy synths of Round work hard to put Welcome To Goon Island back on the map, and succeed, until the half way point, where the song veers off course to nowhere in particular.

Thank God, then, for the glorious Ba (Ba-Ba-Ba). The wonky saxophone, playful guitars, and gloopy drums make XX Teens sound like they’ve just got in from a pissed up night with The Zutons at a jazz bar. Lyrics like “my heart’s all soaked in wine” help fuel this analogy. And if Ba (Ba-Ba-Ba) is the soundtrack to the end of a boozy night, then Onkawara wakes up the next morning, says bollocks to the hangover, and gets straight back on the sauce. Screaming brass, another dirt cool bassline, and upbeat drums provide the musical backdrop for the vocalist to vent his ramblings. Only thing is, he sounds like he’s still hammered.

In fact, he sounds pretty half-cut throughout (particularly on Onkawara), be he mumbling some nonsensical stuff, or barking out deluded epithets of love lost and ensuing confusion, he sounds a little bit mental, and a little bit pissed. His charismatic delivery stalks the ground between David Byrne and a coked up Grant Lee Phillips.

On we go to previous single Only You, which a) sounds like Caesars, and b) is a dubious single choice. The chorus is irritating and there’s little bite in the song. After Only You, Goon Island gets a bit boring, and you start thinking about home. Album closer, For Brian Haw, attempts to reprise the glimmer of promise shown on touch down at Goon Island, but fails, not least because of the political lecture thrown on at the end.

It’s as if XX Teens have lots of cool ideas, but don’t know how to follow them through. Too often, a song will taper off midway through, and your left wanting more, wanting XX Teens to thrash your brains out, begging for a hook, something to latch onto, but it never comes.

Ironically, it sounds a bit like they’re trying too hard, trying to be too clever in their pursuit of “technicolour joy”. It’s a bit art-school, and a bit pretentious, which is a shame, because XX Teens have a lot going for them: namely, great basslines, a charismatic singer, and occasional moments of brilliance. The aforementioned Ba (Ba-Ba-Ba) is a case-in-point. Maybe praise lavished upon them from the industry has pushed them off course, but these songs don’t sound finished. Goon Island is attractive at first, and the welcome is heartily given, but it might be better to stay at home.

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XX Teens – Welcome To Goon Island