Welcome to the super massive black hole. The void, the canyon sized gap.
Call it what you want, but there is definitely something missing in the music market today. A particular sub-group of fans who just don’t feel represented anymore. They used to sing-along to guys in parkas, pack out venues 100,000 strong and they thought they were going to live forever. But it didn’t work out that way, and in 2007, well over ten years since the last shrivelled butt of Britpop went out, these guys are still looking for a worthy new bunch of idols.
There are pretenders for sure. The cocky Leicestershire lads Kasabian have the swagger but lack the substance while those cheeky Northern Monkeys almost cut it, but where is the strut? And what about the guys who live down south who couldn’t tell their Mardy Bum from their elbow?
When it comes to music which unites the football fan and the mockney mod, the indie-kid and the beer-swigging tradesman, we’ve been struggling of late. The Ordinary Boys are just plain ordinary, Mike Skinner had it, but now he’s too big for his boots running around with pop stars and caning it. Hard Fi? More like Hard work. So what about The Rifles?
Most of the boxes look like they could be ticked. They sound like The Jam or The Clash, look like they just jumped off a Vespa and are from East Laadon. They write songs about girls, drinking and going to work. They have the swagger and assurance of a band who have struggled up from the bottom to where they are tonight. One of them has a West Ham flag over his amp – a sign of devotion or madness at the very least, and they are confident.
Problem is, they’re not very good. It’s basically a re-hash of seventies observational punk, much in the same veins Preston and Co, but without the charm. She’s Got Standards, a cautionary tale of fame-grabbing groupies (bad), has the urgency of Weller but lacks any real bite. Likewise, Hometown Blues has the rabble rousing foot stomping tension that The Clash used to whip up with so much venom, but turns into another tune about how rubbish it is to go back to where you grew up. Robin Hood has the acoustic guitars out and has a hint of Billy Bragg about it, only unpolitisized, pedestrian and too drawn from its influences.
Where The Rifles make it work is when they throw off some of the tags of the past and bring things up to date. When I’m Alone has more to owe The Strokes garage rock revival than the seventies – it’s perfect for the crux of their fans, lively enough to jump about to, but essentially a song about love and loss that it’s alright to relate to in the Skinner Dry Your Eyes mould.
In the same vein, One Night Stand has angular guitar stabs similar to more literate peers The Rakes, but with a sing-a-long chorus that The Kooks would be proud of.
The Rifles aren’t that bad. But they just don’t do anything to a segment of popular music which has either been exposed to the hilt or ‘re-invigorated’ by every other group of boys in bands out there. Maybe, it’s because their influences were of a particular time and place which doesn’t exist in Britain today, that they sound tired and uninspiring. Maybe they just need to try harder – the shell is there. Either way, now, they seem like just another round peg in a square Lad Rock shaped hole.