By Jason Shoff
Sure, The Salad Boys may hail from New Zealand, a country with a storied indie rock past. Yet on their debut album, Metalmania, they sound like they come from a time machine straight out of Athens, Georgia circa 1984. In fact, there’s hardly a track that goes by that doesn’t have, in some way, the influence of R.E.M.: whether it be the jangly guitars, the wirey, tightly-wound drumming, or the hard to decipher lyrics and vocals of Joe Sampson that are buried in the mix. Now this isn’t a bad thing; in fact, these guys manage to create a spot-on pastiche of IRS-era R.E.M. sounds that should immediately appeal to anyone who longs for the days of ‘80s alternative college rock. However, as well-crafted and enjoyable as these songs are, it’s also not an incredibly original sound either, to the point where you can clearly spot where they pulled their riffs and melodies from on more than a few occasions. But how much does that really hurt them?
First off, let’s get out of this way: despite the title, there is nothing incredibly “metal” about this record, unless their idea of metal is trying to duplicate the sound of Teenage Fanclub’s “Metal Baby,” in which case they succeeded. Having said that, The Salad Boys have divided their record pretty evenly between low-key ballads and raging rockers, which adds up to a record that flows incredibly well. However, at first listen, it’s the rock tracks that have the most impact upon first listen. “Dream Date,” in particular, hits you like a punch to the gut, both in its catchy-as-hell melody and the fact that they somehow managed to condense every one of Murmur’s upbeat tracks into a single song. But others sound more like rip-offs than tributes: “No Taste Bomber” is a straight-up rewrite of “Driver 8,” and the intro of “I’m a Mountain” is a little bit too close to “Gardening at Night” for comfort (and the constant f-bombs also seem to be devised as a way to shock, but instead comes off as disgenuine). “Hit Her and Run,” however, takes the jangle rock formula and twists it in new directions; some The Velvet Underground drone here, some country and western twang here, and a noise pop outro that would make Sonic Youth proud. It’s a track like this that makes you wish they tried to add different variations elsewhere.
The ballads, by comparison, have a bit more variety, even if they still draw from the classic rock well. Opening track “Here’s No Use” is The Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again” filtered through the Flying Burrito Brothers; “Daytime Television” imagines “Sitting Still” as an Everly Brothers tune; “My Decay” is R.E.M. tackling a classic from Blood on the Tracks; and “Bow to Your Sensation,” which really should be a single, sounds like The Byrds-by-way-of-“Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” albeit with a slightly more anthemic chorus that makes it perfect for the radio. Out of all of the mid-tempo numbers, though, it’s “First Eight” that will more than likely stick with you the most. A track that’s so breezy and smooth that you’ll wish it came out during the summer, it sounds melodically like a combination of The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Name” and 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up?” that’s been smothered in Jimmy Buffet, which is a WAY better combination than you’d think it is, and is really the only song that this record closed with.
So at the end of the day, Metalmania is the sound of three talented New Zealanders who can write some killer hooks and aren’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve. For a debut album, it’s pretty stellar, and there are enough great songs for me to recommend it to any fan of indie rock. But my hope is that, on future records, they can put their own stamp on a sound that, honestly, many rock bands are trying to duplicate these days. If they can do that, then there’s no limit to their potential.
The Salad Boys are scheduled to play at the Time Out Lounge in Tempe on October 12th; my guess is that some of these sounds are going to sound AMAZING live, so mark your calendars now, jangle rock fans.