It’s always disheartening to see a band’s hard work simply refusing to pay off, and rarely has that been embodied more clearly than with Dinosaur Pile-Up. Since their debut Growing Pains was released in 2010 and subsequently saw them nestled among the claims of next big thing, they’ve struggled to really make good on those promises, eventually becoming something of a placeholder within the British rock scene. To a degree, it’s easy to see why – their brand of straight-up grunge isn’t the most fashionable and the net degradation of their albums have made its limitations fairly clear – but when they know their way around a hook and a melody to the extent they do, it’s hard not to think they should be at least a bit further ahead than where they currently are. Their perseverance has been admirable, certainly, but on the whole, Dinosaur Pile-Up still feel as though they’re in the same mid-tier slot that they’ve been in for years.
But it also feels like they know that, and it’s been used as the driving force behind Celebrity Mansions. That’s not in the sense of gaining the drive to go bigger or make a blatant about-face towards the mainstream either; this is quite literally an album about how disappointing it is to be a musician, and how seldom the expectations from those outside of the industry match up to the reality. And yet, this isn’t some dreary, self-pitying mess like it very well could be, as Dinosaur Pile-Up drench the whole thing in sarcasm and snark, crank up the power-pop melodies to the absolute max, and come out with one of the most fun pure rock albums of the year.
It’s perhaps the most personality that’s ever been present in a Dinosaur Pile-Up album, because they’ve actually got the material to work with. The visions of being a big shot rockstar on Back Foot and K West are blown up to almost ludicrous proportions, if only to make the contrast to Matt Bigland’s view of himself as a hapless loser on Professional Freak and the bluntly-titled Stupid Heavy Metal Broken Hearted Loser Punk all the more stark. Thus, when the two sides are conflated, there’s a sense of reality that has weight, but it’s not bogged down by dourness. The simple contrast between the artwork and title is enough to get that impression, but on a track like Thrash Metal Cassette where the expectations of life as a touring band are brought plummeting down by real life, there’s nothing that’s being overly dwelled on or ruminated on to the point of melodrama. It’s a similar case with the title track, surrounded by the titular celebrity mansions but leaving with a feeling of optimism, however unfounded it may be. There’s a realisation that this mightn’t all pan out, but Dinosaur Pile-Up are continuing forward anyway, because why not? It’s a refreshing take on the mundanities and minutiae of being in a band that others always want to swerve, and to see it embraced so wholeheartedly is an easy emotion to get swept up in.
And subsequently. Dinosaur Pile-Up make their love of the music they make known in just how exuberant the presentation on this album feels. There’s always been the unavoidable ‘90s vibes in Bigland’s nasal, shouty vocals, and it’s made all the more blatant and colourful when placed against the crunching rap-metal riffs of Back Foot or the scuzzy pop-punk of Round The Bend. On the whole, nuance doesn’t feel like a terribly huge factor in the execution, but Dinosaur Pile-Up more than make up for it by the constant stream of fat, roaring guitars and clattering hooks that always seem to hit their mark. Things clearly start off on a high when parts of Thrash Metal Cassette sound like they could genuinely belong to a Cancer Bats song, but on the supercharged grunge-pop of Pouring Gasoline or the Foo Fighters-calibre arena-fillers of Black Limousine and Long Way Down, Dinosaur Pile-Up make it abundantly clear how ready they are to move on to huge things. Maybe at times the production could afford to be a bit more guttural and visceral, but that’s such an inconsequential nitpick that a vast majority of the time, it’s not even worth entertaining. This is a genuinely great album throughout, and Dinosaur Pile-Up have pulled out all the stops to make it so.
And for this album especially, that feels like the most satisfying way to cap things off. For an album driven by big dreams and the lack of a means to achieve them, it feels almost poetic that, with the right crowd, Celebrity Mansions could be the one that takes Dinosaur Pile-Up over that barrier and into the realm of being a truly world-beating rock band. After all, there’s no reason it shouldn’t; the riffs, melodies and hooks are top-drawer, and it’s stuffed with an intelligence and levity that immediately puts it above plenty of other no-nonsense acts. They’re hitting a level that most of their ilk will never even get remotely near to, and if that isn’t to Dinosaur Pile-Up’s immense credit, then nothing is.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Pulled Apart By Horses, Nine Black Alps
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Celebrity Mansions’ by Dinosaur Pile-Up is out now on Parlophone Records.