Nostalgia sure sells big these days. With baby-boomers spending their hard-won 401K dollars on seeing touring dinosaurs like The Rolling Stones, it seems impossible to deny the allure of trying to recapture lost youth. For those of us disenchanted enough to remember an era of music that lies buried somewhere under the pop-punk glitz of today’s sorry market, but aren’t as antiquated as those relishing in the cock-rock swagger of living artifacts, then The Narrator may be just the band we’ve been pining for. All That To The Wall revisits that wonderful lost decade full of slackers, torn jeans and flannel, and ambiguous definitions of “sexual relations.” I’m talking, of course, about the ’90s.
All That To The Wall is what Rivers Cuomo must have been pondering while hitting the books at Harvard, and subsequently forgot once he decided he wanted his band to allow their songs to appear in a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. It’s grungy, but it sure as hell isn’t grunge. It invokes the slew of early ’90s mainstays that finally sunk the stake into the heart of hair metal, but without sounding the least bit derivative. Aptly named frontman Sam Axelrod recalls the later-decade aplomb of another Sam (Jayne, of Love As Laughter), as well as his band’s similarly fuzzed-out lo-fi rock blitz. Or imagine Isaac Brock without the Bobcat Goldthwait vocal tendencies. And thus nostalgia rears its bleary-eyed head. Any of you GenX-ers swooning yet?
Careening with strangely Far East-sounding guitar arpeggiation over static drum wallops, “Son of the Son of the Kiss of Death” is an immediately invigorating injection of adrenaline. Axelrod’s vocal chords are sandpaper spectacular. Visceral, baby. Russian Circles drummer Dave Turncrantz plays on half of the record, his weighty fills sending an extra jolt of lightning into any dark corners. “Surf Jew” is the up-tempo scream-along, with chugging guitar leading the listener into familiar chorus chanting territory, in this case: “I know, I know and I know…” What Axelrod knows isn’t necessarily discernable, but it doesn’t seem to matter. It has “single” stamped all over it.
There’s even room for a sedated Bob Dylan cover, “All The Tired Horses.” Bet you didn’t see that coming. Initially an a cappella (read: restrained) rendition, it quickly incorporates banjo, plucked strings, and a warm keyboard haze. The remotely remorseful “Start Parking” finds Axelrod musing “I never learned to drive stick” over shakers and droning guitar riffage. The song opens wide with repeated “oo-wooo’s” and a hefty list of regrets. “Papal Airways” is the sort of alterna-tradition Cuomo probably wishes he’d never strayed from, while a scathing indictment of the “NASCAR generation” can be found on “Breaking a Turtle,” a rowdy barnburner sans bass.
While it’s easy to tread water in a steadily rising stream of nostalgia, The Narrator avoids the trap on All That To The Wall. As Axelrod reminds us that while “this world is going to shit” on “A Decade In Kentucky,” we still yet have music to help us remember the better times. Whatever those look like.
Love As Laughter – Sea To Shining Sea
Modest Mouse- The Moon and Antarctica
Weezer – Pinkerton