I think that it’s fair to say that I’m somewhat of an Anglophile; maybe not as much as my wife is, and definitely not as much as my friend Lloyd. But I can safely say that I love most things British, especially when it comes to pop culture. Most of my favorite bands are British, and every time I read Q Magazine and espy a band I haven’t yet heard of, I send myself into a tizzy and embark upon a new journey of discovery. This is what happened with Athlete.
I had been reading about Athlete for a good long while before their debut album Vehicles & Animals was released in the states. The album is actually comprised of a number of singles that had already been released in Britain. Most of the reviews, articles, and interviews you’ll be exposed to regarding Athlete will compare them to a number of bands that aren’t necessarily deserved. In other words, most of these comparisons are really reaching. The most common comparison made is between singer Joel Pott’s voice and Steve Malkmus’. In my opinion the comparison is off base, and I don’t even like Pavement!
Their third single, “El Salvador” kicks the album off. All of those other reviews I mentioned will tell you one particular noteworthy thing about this song which is the fact that it sounds exactly like Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”. All of those other reviews are right. It tricks you at first by sounding like something from Gomez or the Beta Band, but then it goes all “Sk8r boi” on you.
“Westside”, their fifth single follows and is about the music scene in Camden. The far too literal lyrics follow, “Everybody wants to be part of the rock scene.” I’ll get back to this thought later. “One Million” is a sleepy song with more cockney accent and fairly unoriginal music. Then it ends with a bad early nineties’ drum n’ bass coda.
When I listen to this album I can’t help but envision the same damn thing over and over again. The image that appears in my mind is rolling film credits. The reason being is that nearly all of the tracks on the album are the epitome of sleepy bland pop tunes that start playing after Lindsay Lohan / Mandy Moore / Hilary Duff / Amanda Bynes reunites with long lost father Colin Firth / starts a star-crossed relationship with shaggy-haired British boy / becomes the most popular American kid in England, etc.
By the midway point of Vehicles & Animals I was bored to tears. How could a Britpop band disappoint me? The answer lies in the fact that the band isn’t really Britpop; it’s just straightforward commercial pop. The album consists completely of throwaway tunes that, as I said earlier, you simply tack onto the credit sequences of popular teen films, or worse, they are the songs played during the advertising slides before the movie even starts. Even the one song that I found somewhat enjoyable, “You Got the Style”, fit into this mold. The lyrics themselves reference teenybopper pop culture with it’s Bring It On mirror image cheer. In the film, both the Toros and Clovers, two opposing cheer squads, chant “Brrr. It’s cold in here, must be some Toros / Clovers in the atmosphere!” Pott sings, “Oh! It’s gettin’ hot in here, must be somethin’ in the atmosphere.” I mean really. This is supposed to be a song about South London’s 2001 race riots! I love the movie myself (really, it’s funny, check it out), but this juxtaposition is a little ridiculous. The most entertaining thing about it is its video which is featured on the CD. In it, an animated atom dances through J. Otto Seibold-like backgrounds while carbon rods sing backup. It’s cute. Unfortunately this is the biggest compliment I can give to the entire album.
There is no ground on this CD that hasn’t already been tread. There is nothing original, new, exciting, or even just plain good. With such a great resurgence of British music currently, such as Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol, Clearlake, etc., it’s a shame that this album is likely to get lumped in with the lot. Pott sings on “Westside”, “Everybody wants to be part of the rock scene.” It’s hard to tell whether or not he’s singing this with tongue in cheek as I couldn’t have said it better. There are some bands which really shouldn’t be part of that scene. I really wanted to like this album and maybe that’s why I’m so disappointed. Maybe I just got my hopes too high. Either that or I’m just getting too damn old for some pop music. Take your pick.
Avril Lavigne- Let Go
Hilary Duff- Metamorphosis
Gomez- Split the Difference