Obits’ Rick Froberg is no stranger to the mysterious ways of punk rock, its irrepressible energy and community appeal, yet for his latest outfit the former Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu frontman has taken his foot off the pedal slightly to deliver anthems more suitable for sing-along celebration than riotous body-slamming.
Not that Froberg didn’t have a way with words with his previous outfits – to the two above you should also add the no less influential Pitchfork – but throughout ‘I Blame You’ the singer’s in fine voice, each and every time hitting a vocal sweet spot that connects the dots between his bands past and present, while never getting quite as frantic as he might’ve been in his youth. Maturity – the man’s 41 years old – has made its mark in the right way, youthful excess gradually balanced by considered compositional skill, melodies stronger than they’ve ever been.
The garage-inspired riffs of Hot Snakes remain prominent in the mix, but Obits’ laid-back vibes are a sign of the four-piece’s recognising that ever aspect of the arrangement needs space to breathe. So, instead of blasting the listener’s face off, this music glides from the speakers with a surprising grace, more Sonic Youth at their most mainstream-appeasing slick than The Sonics hitting the peak of their clattering rackets. ‘Run’ certainly breaks free of the cacophonous mould, led not by Froberg but by fellow guitarist Sohrab Habibion, and represents a radio-friendly high on a record not exactly lacking in such sweetly accessible offerings.
Of course, the throaty rasp of Froberg is the initial draw here – it is his past form that will see the first wave of sales out the door. But one should not overlook that this is no solo project, but a band proper in its own right. While the songs began with Froberg after the dissolution of Hot Snakes, they’ve been brought to life through collaboration, via exploration with musicians of a similar mindset: rock and roll needs to be fun, whatever the potentially inclement conceptual themes, and a fun time will surely be had by those who take the time to investigate this record. Its upbeat, good-spirited vibe is appreciated at a time when fresh-faced newcomers seem obsessed in channelling the ghost of Ian Curtis in their so-called modern rock.
From the blocks this record’s intention to move you is clear, ‘Window Of My Dreams’ packing a percussive punch and a guitar build that breaks into some cracking six-string screams; come the conjoining of each constituent part, the song transforms into a hit-the-road anthem for those who’ve slid into a period of their lives where adventure’s been forgotten in favour of mortgage payments and the like. Its intention isn’t so much to prompt the listener into dropping their responsibilities and responding to the call of rock and roll and its disregard for authority, as it is a reminder to those of its makers’ age that, hell, you can still have a blast from time to time, y’dig? Song one, and we’re already all smiles.
And so it goes, never revolutionary stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but of a consistently high quality that ensures that even the most educated punk-rocker isn’t going to find their attentions wandering; indeed, the truly invested sort will enjoy playing spot the tribute as Obits run the gamut of garage acts across the years, offering respect to their predecessors while always keeping eyes focused on their own here and now. The band is, by members’ own admissions, a straightforward proposition; as such you won’t find any blindsiding tangents on offer, leaving you free to enjoy a comfortably familiar experience that nevertheless delivers its key promises.
Which are, simply, to rock you some, and to roll you some; and, just maybe, somewhere along the line teach you a little something about self-belief, about triumph over adversity, about having a fucking good time before your own runs out and you’re left looking back at a tonne of potential unfulfilled and goals never achieved. Stylistically, it’s as fresh as the leaves that fell two autumns ago but you’ve still not swept from the yard, but in its heart ‘I Blame You’ is one of the most relevant slices of rock you’ll hear in 2009.
And the same would be true if it’d been released in 1979, 1989 or 1999. It is the true rock of ages, repackaged as the rock of now, and demands your attention. Like, right now. Go!