The funniest irony about the alt-rock era is how much reverence its most prominent icons had for classic rock. Nirvana began life as a Creedence cover band, or so the story goes. Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil may have spun some bullshit about how his only influences were on SST, but he should probably be counting his lucky stars that Jimmy Page apparently wasn’t the litigious type. And Billy Corgan, perhaps the most vocal arena rock dork of them all, wore his Rush and Zeppelin influences proudly. Whatever these bands were an alternative to is up for debate, but at the heart of it all, beneath the slacker fashion trends and histrionics, they were still playing arena sized guitar rock, and doing it well at that.
Canadian duo PS I Love You, though not as rich in personnel as some of their 1990s influences, share an earthy, classic rock sensibility beneath the dense layers of overdrive that cloud every riff and power chord in a warm glow of fuzz. Where the band’s first album Meet Me At the Muster Station showcased the band’s exceptional indie rock songwriting skills, there’s even more dinosaur appeal on second album Death Dreams, in more ways than one. Singer and guitarist Paul Saulnier has clearly studied at the school of Mascis and Moore, as displayed in his chunky, squealing leads in “Toronto” and gorgeously off-kilter jangle in “Saskatoon.” Yet Saulnier and drummer Benjamin Nelson set their sights to even more heroic stages at times, chugging out some suspenseful crashes of power chords in “Sentimental Dishes” and boogieing down to some Cheap Trick-style power pop in “First Contact.”
For how much bigger, sonically, Death Dreams sounds when held up to its predecessor, Saulnier’s lyrics still bear the mundane insecurities of someone real, humble and searching for something better. He turns the simple act of washing dishes into an infectious tantrum on “Sentimental Dishes,” chanting “I don’t want to do the dishes/ you don’t want to do the dishes/ they don’t want to do the dishes,” before finger-tapping out a pretty bitchin solo. On “Future Dontcare,” nostalgia becomes a liability (“I with this summer was like last summer“), and satisfaction is perpetually out of reach (“All I ever wanted was more than I ever had“). The latter surfaces again on “Red Quarter,” which suggests Saulnier might still have a way to go before getting that walk-in humidor, though his chops are certainly in the right place.
Death Dreams is just one of many albums that pairs meaty rock riffs and punk abrasion with navel-gazing lyrics of uncertainty and unease. So it’s to PS I Love You’s credit that it adds up to something much stronger and more engaging than the sum of its parts. Their arena rock chops are good enough to capture the listener’s attention, but it’s their songwriting skills that keep it.