, November 11th, 2016 12:40
If Glam Rock is supposedly back with avengence then in truth it’s back as a slightly weird simulacrum in keeping with the Strangest Year of Our Lord Twenty Sixteen. Roman gladiators Guida have tapped into obscure 70s bovver rock, French glitter outliers Moodoïd are more experimental psychedelia than anything else, while if the UK has revivalists then they’re only tenuously so (The Guardian recently attached Welsh singer Meilyr Jones to the movement crediting him with a glam rock “state of mind” more than anything else).
The American strain is yet more attenuated still, with Long Island’s the Lemon Twigs looking the part, but the brothers D'Addario are far more beholden to Gram than Glam (Parsons that is). The original American glam rockers of the late 60’s and early 70’s were always different from their UK counterparts anyway, with acts like the New York Dolls and the Stooges more like a kind of proto-punk (if we’re in the business of labelling everything retrospectively).
That all said, Nashville’s Savoy Motel do share more DNA with the early 70s glam rock progenitors of the UK - such as Roxy Music - than most of their contemporaries. They look terrific in a mannered, retrofuturistic kind of way, their schtick is conceptual and erring towards pretentiousness (the bio on their website runs with the idea that they’re a hotel rather than a band), their music has a lurid and sometimes kaleidoscopic quality that’s as strong as their visual aesthetic, and they’re unabashedly ambitious, unabated by their technical limitations.
The opening staccato strokes of ‘Souvenir Shop Rock’ are delightfully out of time, and they start as they mean to go on. These are the kinds of enjoyable imperfections you’re never going to find on a turgidly polished offering from, say, The 1975. Interestingly, and probably coincidentally, the tracklisting appears to nod to Roxy’s masterpiece For Your Pleasure. There are five punchy tracks on the a-side, and three elongated and experimental numbers on the flip, with the nine-minute ‘International Language’ reminding one of ‘The Bogus Man’, even if it’s not quite as good (but then, what is?).
The aforementioned ‘Souvenir Shop Rock’ is actually reminiscent of Roxy’s debut, with its wild horns, wig outs and plastic funk. Mastermind and songwriter Jeffrey Novak’s distinctive falsetto takes it to someplace else though, and while there are comparisons to be had with Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra, that too is surely coincidence only. ‘Western Version Boogie’ and ‘Sorry People’ are both assured on the whole, but both also feature strumming of a laissez faire nature. ‘Everyone Wants To Win’ includes analogue computer noises that are pleasing, but breaks now and again into conventional rock ‘n’ roll. And ‘Doctor Cook’ meanders around like a funked up stoner, feeling the groove while threatening to fall over any minute. While the timing issues occasionally jolt if you’re sensitive to those types of things, the overall impression is charming. The fact they’re accompanying a drum machine no doubt adds to the overall DIY aesthetic.
‘Mindless Blues’ on the second side is a highlight with its funk chords and driving soul groove and its mix of vocals from within the group (there are three vocalists on Savoy Motel); even the slide solo - slipped into the middle of the track - comes off. The final songs are the most experimental, with ‘Hot One’ a kind of computer funk track inspired by the European interpretation of disco in the latter part of the 70s, and the gigantic ‘International Language’, at 9.18, is not without its virtues, but it could be a bit of a slog if you weren’t in the right mood. If one applauds the ambition then it would be remiss to criticise the lack of focus.
Savoy Motel’s eponymously titled debut has a lot going for it, full of interesting ideas, some of which come to fruition and some that could do with some development still. The next one might just be great.