For those not in the know, the seemingly overnight inclusion of Counterfeit amongst UK rock’s hype train must be slightly perplexing. After all, this is a band who, up to now, only have a handful of tracks to their name, and yet are being unrelentingly fawned over by the rock press, even on that meagre evidence. Look deeper into the logistics of the band, though, and the pieces start to fit together – fronting Counterfeit is Harry Potter and Twilight actor Jamie Campbell Bower, and following in the exact same process as Thirty Seconds To Mars and The Pretty Reckless before them, Counterfeit are experiencing an exponential growth by proxy on the strength of the associated star power.
The big difference is that Counterfeit feel nowhere near as cynical or micro-managed as the other two, drawing on more raucous punk and hard rock sounds. But even so, that can’t be the main reason they’re being so hotly tipped, can it? Together We Are Stronger has moments where Counterfeit wobble on the cusp of some really great rock ‘n’ roll, especially for a debut, but on the whole, this isn’t all that special. Rather than the ‘saviours of modern punk’ that they’re being positioned as, Counterfeit fall in the awkward middle ground between a baby Frank Carter-era Gallows and the next evolutionary step of pretty-boy Britrock looking to move into something a bit heavier.
Admittedly they can pull this off though, especially in the instrumentation, the head-and-shoulders standout of this album. They certainly know the value of a good riff, given how the likes of Washed Out and especially As Yet Untitled manage to pack in some real fire. Better yet, there’s no over-reliance on extraneous overproduction, meaning that the full force of these tracks can actually be felt with the intended impact. As for the lyrics, they rarely vary from celebrations of rockstar machismo and rally cries of uprising that never even acknowledge any sort of inventiveness, but with the sleazy guitar work on For The Thrill Of It and Romeo, and the burly, unashamedly wide-reaching chorus of Enough, the angle they hit at still works in full context. And when he sticks to his power-over-nuance style, Campbell Bower’s vocals have enough swagger to work to the band’s advantage, positioned in the apparently existent cross-section of Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz and The Prodigy’s Keith Flint.
This doesn’t last though, and Counterfeit’s biggest problem eventually becomes that they don’t go as hard as they really could throughout. Sure, wanting a cohesive, flowing body of work is an understandable goal, but not when some of the moments include Lost Everything with its hackneyed, inelegant strings and toothless guitars, or Letters To The Lost, built around a single demo-quality guitar line that’s begging for some sort of remastering. That latter track is actually about Campbell Bower’s friend who tragically took his own life, but the way its delivered brings up Together We Are Stronger‘s other major problem, in that when the frontman tries to hit any significant range, it doesn’t end so well, be it in Letters To The Lost which sounds far too aggressive and confrontational to be mournful, or the frustratingly nasal chorus of You Can’t Rely.
It’s good that Counterfeit are making a conscious effort to try new things, but the end results scream of a band who are far more seasoned in one particular area than any others. It means that Together We Are Stronger falls into the holding pattern of an archetypal debut, in that it abounds with big ideas but can only capitalise on a handful of them. And given that this is the case, the early hype around Counterfeit feels all the more confusing; they’re a band who can pull off their grand ambitions, but it doesn’t quite feel like they’re ready yet. Still, as it stands this is a solid debut, even if it does jump the gun with how much Counterfeit are willing to show of themselves at this early stage.
For fans of: Heaven’s Basement, Billy Talent, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Together We Are Stronger’ by Counterfeit is released on 17th March on Xtra Mile Recordings.