Just a couple of years ago, the thought of Beach Slang effectively falling off the face of the earth would not have even been worth entertaining. A pair of good to great albums in The Thing We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us and A Loud Bash Of Teenage Emotions released less than a year apart established them a real force to be reckoned with in indie-punk and garage-rock, and served as a palpable source of momentum at the start of the second half of the 2010s. But after that – and despite an equally excellent re-arranged effort from mainman James Alex’s side-project Quiet Slang in 2018 – things have been almost unsettlingly quiet, to the point where it doesn’t seem like anyone actually knows this third album is being released. It’s hardly the band’s fault either; the singles so far have been pretty good, and the addition of Tommy Stinson on bass, a musician whose CV spans acts as diverse as The Replacements to Guns N’ Roses, finally feels like the validation to join the ranks of the US rock greats that’s always seemed at the back of Beach Slang’s mind. But even with all that, there’s a feeling of innocuousness that’s currently shrouding The Deadbeat Bang Of Heartbreak City that’s decidedly alien for Beach Slang, combined with a distinct lack of hype and an inopportune release date that’s stacked more odds in front of them than perhaps ever before.
At the end of the day though, that’s kind of understandable. The Deadbeat Bang… is a far less adventurous adventurous than much of Beach Slang’s previous material has strived to be, and that more confined scale feels suitably represented by a release strategy that’s a lot more low-key. That said, if ever Beach Slang did want to make a rough-and-ready rock ‘n’ roll album that really didn’t want to be much more, this is the way to do it, and what could be perceived as a lack of adventurous on their part in reality feels like a band channelling the impulses they’ve always had and running away with them. That is to say, it’s recognisably a Beach Slang album, but it’s probably the most natural that one has ever sounded.
And while that can inevitably be attributed to the fact that this is framed as a tribute to power-pop musician Tommy Keene following his passing in 2017, given the lifts and references to his music woven throughout the course of the album, it’s really only Tommy In The ‘80s which explicitly pays tribute to his influence. Rather, the references operate more as a parallel to the typical rockstar imagery that Alex goes through here, and to some degree, that lends a bit more poignancy in places like the closer Bar No One and its addressing of what happens when the adage of ‘live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse’ comes to pass. And while Alex is more than happy to simply go for the throat with simple, carnal thrills of Bam Rang Rang and Born To Raise Hell, the odd interesting turns do lend a degree of freshness, like the bleaker view of the rockstar lifestyle from someone indirectly affected by it on Nobody Say Nothing. They’re more glimpses of a wider perspective than anything driving a consistent narrative, but on an album like this that’s so focused on that singular vision, that sort of widening of the firing line feels necessary to prevent stagnation. On the other hand though, with tracks like Nowhere Bus and Stiff with lyrical content that rarely elevates beyond repeating a couple of lines, it can feel like reducing this approach to the absolute bare minimum, but when the writing is never the priority on albums like this, it’s a bit easier to cut Beach Slang some slack in that department.
They at least make up for it with the music, where the scruffy, roughened presentation of their previous material has been lifted from its indie-punk context and fed into a rock ‘n’ roll one that makes a lot more sense. It allows for a bigger, bolder tone to come through on Let It Ride and Bam Rang Rang, or the opportunity to experiment with a wider breadth of classic power-pop and rock instrumental choices, like the stalking riff that’s the musical equivalent of a curled upper lip on Stiff, or the accents of synth and horns on Tommy In The ‘80s and Kicking Over Bottles respectively that are extra doses of spice on a pair of already good songs. It’s all given some wonderfully meaty production as well, with the guitars given the means to really roar and snarl across the mix to catch up with Alex’s inimitably scratchy vocals, and the bass and drums having a good deal of meat to keep a constantly stable rhythm on the go. It’s far more interesting in its details than the vast majority of throwback albums looking to achieve the same effect, simply because Beach Slang are happy to lean into rougher, less restricted material and cut loose in a way that this sort of rock ‘n’ roll should. If it wasn’t for a few odd instrumental decisions this could easily stand as some great execution, but cutting the pace and effectively becoming completely different songs on Bam Rang Rang and Sticky Thumbs is just unnecessary, and having Nowhere Bus built around the exact same acoustic foundation as its preceding track Nobody Say Nothing makes it feel like an afterthought. They hardly ruin anything, but it’s a shame to see what could’ve been a more direct, streamlined experience taken off course in such a way.
But putting everything together, The Deadbeat Bang… finds a really solid new avenue for Beach Slang to explore in a way that remains familiar, but doesn’t see them resting on their laurels either. There are moments on here that could realistically rank among their best, such is the strength with which they’ve jumped into this sound and embraced it. The few bumps in the road that are here can most likely be dismissed as teething problems, especially in the writing, and the sooner that Beach Slang pick up the fantastic speed they once had, the sooner they can hit those heights that were so common for them. There’s a lot of evidence here for that happening, and that’s always good for a band who’ve always had as much to offer as this.
For fans of: PUP, Culture Abuse, Microwave
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Deadbeat Bang Of Heartbreak City’ by Beach Slang is released on 10th January on Bridge Nine Records.