I have to admit, right off the top, I’m impressed.
There’s an old saying in music – I’ll try and get it right – that goes: you have your whole life to write your first album and two weeks to write your second one. It was a giddy Bono during his Rock Hall of Fame speech, when speaking about the band’s sophomore album October, who described it as “the difficult second album.” So many bands have faced the “sophomore slump” that they are way too numerous to mention here. The Aussie band Jet springs to mind, I don’t know why.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. For some reason I was thinking about the Black Crowes second album this week. I loved their debut album, it came out about the same time as GnR’s first record and I thought rock and roll had been saved for generations to come. Then I heard The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion when it came out and I liked it even more. I can remember singing the lead single, “Remedy” outside a club in Dallas on a road trip and mixing up the lyrics to go, “baby, baby why you dry (sic) your hair.” Uh, the line is “dye your hair.” While the Cars debut should have just been called “Cars Greatest Hits” I’ve always liked Candy-O as much or (gasp) better. That may be because every track on The Cars was wildly overplayed on the radio.
All of that aside, Starcrawler – Arrow de Wilde (vocals), Austin Smith (drummer), Henri Cash (guitar) and Tim Franco (bass) – dropped their second album a couple of weeks ago, just before I was to see them live Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers. If you haven’t seen them, do so, post haste. I will say right off the bat, Starcrawler is not suffering from a slump, sophomore or otherwise. If anything this band is growing and developing at an alarmingly fast rate. They take the menacing punk energy of their first album and expand upon it. They replaced producer Ryan Adams from their debut (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) with Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) for Devour You and I like the different directions he’s pushing them.
The album starts off with “Lizzie” a song about a bully that would have fit right in with the dark energy of their debut…”I think I’m gonna fall DOWN!” From there the band takes us on an ever-expanding palette of sounds and subjects. The first single, “Bet My Brains” will just gallop into your subconscious, perhaps against your will. Tim Franco’s bass line is pure opium, it’s that addictive. Although when singing it in the shower I found myself messing up the lyrics to “Bless my brains I’ve gone insane,”… some things never change and my inability to sing proper lyrics is apparently one of them. It’s a great single, it may be their “Satisfaction” or “My Generation.” It’s that good. Although I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Ants.”
I don’t want to do what I did with Greta Van Fleet and suggest that these guys are derivative of anybody – they are fiercely original – but I get more of Celebrity Skin-era Hole vibe on this record than the Runaways-meets-metal vibe of the debut. It has more of a grunge vibe to me. “Home Alone” has a jaunty Velvet Underground feel to it… again, not suggesting any derivation here, just suggesting the vibe I’m feeling. They’re doing so much more on Devour You than on the first record, it’s impressive.
My favorite songs on the album are breakup laments. “No More Pennies” with it’s Exile-era Stones vibe is my absolute favorite track of theirs (they even name drop “Dead Flowers”). “Hollywood Ending” explores the same theme but with an entirely different sound and vibe. “Born Asleep” is another great mid tempo thing with a wobbly solo from Cash and perhaps Arrow’s best vocal yet. They’re all great songs. “You Dig Yours” is a fabulous kiss-off song, where Arrow summons a bitchy chorus, “you dig yours, and I’ll dig mine.” “I Don’t Need You” explores the same subject terrain with a more muscular attack (“you only show up when you want to fuck”).
“Toy Teenager” is a great punk-y put down song as well…”all you are is a clothing hanger.” “Toy Teenager” makes me wonder if it’s aimed at a certain model, but how would I know? I can’t tell if “She Gets Around” is a put down or a song about female empowerment. I’m going to bet on the latter. “Rich Taste” and “Tank Top” are both great tracks. The former is kind of funny which I hadn’t expected and the latter is an expression of fashion and freedom…”she never wears a dress, she looks her very best, she goes to bed and spreads her legs in a tank top…”
I can’t say enough about the drumming of Austin Smith, he powers each song forward. He and bassist Tim Franco are the engine of this car. I really like Henri Cash on guitar. His playing is expanding in all sorts of different directions. His solos are compact, economical and powerful. This band just keeps getting better and better. Arrow de Wilde’s vocals more nuanced on this album than they were on the debut as well. She’s bringing the natural charisma she exudes on stage into the studio. The songwriting is getting sharper and sharper.
There is a lot of hype around the aforementioned Greta Van Fleet, and having seen them live this summer, there should be. I would tell you for my money, Starcrawler is just as important for the continuation of rock and roll as GVF. These guys are raw, rocking and utterly irreverent. I have to say I love it all. We need more in-your-face, fuck you, nasty rock and roll and Starcrawler provides it. Give this band a chance, they’ll crawl under your skin and into your brain… pretty soon you too will be botching the lyrics to “Bet My Brains” in the shower, with your shampoo mohawk on full display… that may be TMI…Jump on this bandwagon, it’s like getting in on the ground floor of Apple back in the day. It’ll pay off in a big way.