Sometimes the greatest barrier to appreciating an album can be getting over its awful name. From Miles Davis’ ‘Miles Ahead’ to Ministry’s ‘Dark Side of the Spoon’ via Snoop Dogg’s entire career, there’s a grand history of otherwise great albums marred by pun-gent titles. ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’, the new album from Brooklyn three-piece Highly Suspect, suffers from this affliction in the extreme. Hell, I bet even Tim Vine would be put off by the abject shittiness of that wordplay. But the music should always speak for itself, and there are enough hair-raising moments here to anchor your skin and stop it crawling quite so much.
Opening track and lead single 'My Name Is Human' kicks off affairs with the self-assuredness of an army of street preachers. Blessed with an anthemic chorus and powered by singer Johnny Stevens’ beguiling rapid fire delivery, 'Human' is what would once have been a ‘certified chart smash’. I was over in the States lately and this song was on constant radio rotation across the airwaves. But, given that it's been a decade since a commercial rock track by a young band made any impact on the mainstream UK, it’s likely that it’s passed most non-Kerrang! readers by. In a world where the likes of Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World are pushing 40, there's a real lack of up-and-coming pop-rock bands whose skinny jeans will stretch far enough to let them have one foot in each camp.
OK, so these comparisons are a little unfair. As ‘Seratonia’s John Paul Jones-influenced organ and David Gilmour guitars amply demonstrate, Highly Suspect draw from a far deeper well of influence than merely the muscular end of ’00s emo rock. An archetype of a power trio, the band are adept at cutting away the bullshit and stripping songs down to the core essentials in much the same way Spoon or Balthazar can. There’s also a punk bite to their sound that takes centre stage on the ferocious ‘Look Alive, Stay Alive’. But if I were to describe them to you as Satan’s Switchfoot, well, I reckon that might be closer to the mark than anything else: healthy, all-American rock stained by an overriding sense of worldly cynicism.
Nowhere is this innate contradiction of earnestness and scorn more obvious than in Stevens’ heart on sleeve lyrics. There are some absolute clunkers grated across the album like so much shitty cheese. “Life’s kinda like a video game, bigger than it looks but fundamentally strange,” he philosophises on ‘Potres’, an otherwise decent song due a leg-breaking from Josh Homme for just how much it owes Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Go With The Flow’. He also pikes a few couplets from the Bruno Mars school of writing when he admits that: “I just wanna be naked and masturbate all day at home” on the aforementioned ‘Seratonia’, inspiring an overwhelming desire to throw up in the listener in the process. Speaking of vomit, the less said about the godawful piano ballad ‘Chicago’ the better. Seriously, let’s stop there.
But there are also some absolute gems to be found scattered in the mix. We present to you the unabridged second verse of ‘Viper Strike’ for comparison:
“Oh, you're homophobic,
Wow, what a bitch,
I almost wanna blow your mind and just go suck a dick,
I see you're clutching that cross pretty hard though,
A lot of those motherfuckers are gay,
Like in a ‘hide your kids’ kind of way,
And Jesus wasn't even white on his whitest days,
So I guess you just went backwards just to jump anyway”
Wow. Just wow! That last line makes zero sense… But aside from that WOW! That’s the best anti-bigot diss we’ve heard since David ‘Grab Your Gat’ Attenborough went to work on Donald Trump. You can’t go on criticising how on-the-nose Stevens’ writing can be when he leaves bloody noses like that in his wake.
Any right-thinking Brit should take issue with this band, as something is most definitely lost in the transatlantic transmission. But any right-thinking music fan should also be able to ignore the occasional bad taste in their mouth to enjoy the larger treat. It’s been a very long time since a new rock act with the crossover potential of Highly Suspect emerged. This is a young talent that should be nurtured and supported, not ridiculed and scorned. Then again they did write ‘Chicago’. ‘Chicago’ deserves nothing but scorn.
Words: Josh Gray
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