Dangerbird Records, 2010
Supporting a band can be really hard. This is especially true when the band you fall for is either already split up or on their way to do doing so. When this happens you are almost duty bound to follow the band members to their next projects no matter how awful, out of a confused sense of loyalty and stupidity. Or is that just me? Anyway, it’s happened to me often throughout the years. I discovered the joys of the mighty Kyuss just after the final EP came out, and that remains the reason I will never truly hate Queens of the Stone Age. I can’t, they’re the closest to Kyuss I will ever have. But Them Crooked Vultures can fuck right off, thank you very much.
The very same thing happened to me with mathcore legends Botch. The first thing I bought was on a whim, the excellent ‘An Anthology of Dead Ends.’ And then they split up, and I never got to see them. Of course I then went and got everything else by them, but they never felt like ‘my’ band. And so I watched as the various offshoots sprung up, but the one that really grabbed me was Minus The Bear. Partly because I kind of confused them with the once-excellent Icelandic noisemongers Minus. After a few albums of solid math rock they finally hit the top of their game with ‘Planet of Ice,’ an album which bears virtually no common thread with the raging bluster of Botchbut which was a perfectly lovely bit of techy indie-rock, mixing together modern Biffy Clyro-esque indie rock with Rush dynamics and Pink Floyd’s sense of grandeur, especially on closer ‘Locust‘ which remains one of my favourite tunes. All well and good, but now Minus the Bear are back, holding a shotgun to the face of their own back catalogue and destroying all their credibility with a lump of turgid banality so insipid and bland that it wouldn’t look out of place in the CD collection of a Sting fan.
The first thing you notice about opening track ‘My Time’is that once the synths and drums kick in, your brain automatically starts to build a music video to go along with it, so instant is the sense of cloying recognition. In this music video, which would look a bit like an Adidas advert, the band would be casually sat plucking instruments in a house party, and everyone would be really pretty, and there’d be cuts to people driving around in the sunshine, looking all happy. You know the sort of thing. It’s as though the worst ever Weezer song was covered by OPM, then put through a banality filter and reproduced by the guy who produces Justin Bieber. It’s such a blatant play for the mainstream that it’s staggering to behold. What’s worse is that there isn’t really any tune underneath it either, these once fine songsmiths reduced to endlessly looping a chorus line to bulk out a song that is barely four minutes long. Also, when you’ve got a guitarist a prodigiously talented as Dave Knudson then it’s generally a good idea to actually have his guitar appear on your tracks.
Second track ‘Summer Angel’starts off with a slightly techy riff that leads you to believe that the opening track is an aberration, but it’s soon back to the sell-out Offspring vibe, and Jake Snider’s usually interesting voice is back to monotonous bleating about girls and kissing, and girls. Quite honestly, at this point I generally turn the album off, so bleak it is. But there’s the rest of the album. Oh God, the rest of the album. Even typing these words have a chill running down my spine, and I’m not even listening to it at the moment. I am becoming OMNI-phobic. But I digress. The rest of the album trundles on, casting banality in its wake at every turn. The lyrics, never a hugely strong part of the Minus repertoire at the best of times, are woeful. Sample lyric: ‘You’re on my mind/Swim through the tide/As I float to you/I dream of your caress.’ It’s as though they’ve swallowed the big book of R&B lyrics. To be fair, occasionally the album does throw up a few surprises, such as the fact that you can quite easily realise that it’s halfway through and you’ve not yet fallen into a coma. There are a couple of semi-decent tunes on here, but even the better songs here are inferior to anything in their back catalogue. Even the promise of an epic album closer, the nearly 8 minute ‘Fooled by the Night‘ fails to deliver anything other than boring synths and terrible lyrics.
I am all for reinvention, but what Minus the Bear have managed to do here is to take their general blueprint and remove anything from it that could be considered interesting or unique to themselves. The time changes that were so plentiful on Menos El Oso and Planet of Ice, the sense of humour, the gravitas, all gone. Replaced instead by turgid and uninspiring pop dross, designed to get them a slight whiff of interest from the same people who seem so intent on telling you that the new Biffy Clyro album represents the pinnacle of all human creation. Also known as Radio 1DJ’s. It’s a blatant play for the mainstream, and I can kind of see them latching onto that big train if they can manage to get the right attention, but the way they have done it is so cold, so blatant, that I would be hugely surprised if they manage to take any of their existing fanbase with them.