Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

The Subways -- Young For Eternity
WEA; 2006

Dear members of The Subways,

What the hell happened? In 2004, you guys and gal soundly trumped the competition at Glastonbury Fest's "Best Unsigned Band" contest. Full of piss and vinegar (or Red Bull and vodka), your supposedly electrifying performance was enough to score a record deal and an absurd amount of hype. Whether or not one of your dads slipped the judges serious paper for the win (or maybe the judges are hard of hearing; I'm investigating both), the three of you should be able to record an album indicative of your songwriting talent, if nothing else. And yet, here's Young For Eternity, a debut record that falls flat and finds its creators prostrated at the feet of their influences.

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate hard work. Getting a band together, writing original songs, practicing so said songs don't suck, gigging relentlessly, fighting to get noticed, recording a record, promoting said record -- all of it requires a hefty dose of dedication. By the time an album gets to reviewers, the band that released it deserves nothing less than serious props for getting that far. It honestly pains me, then, when records from new bands sound like referential, contrived garbage. But as guilty as I may feel taking the piss out of them, music this insipid deserves nothing less.

This English trio makes a mishmash of up-tempo rock and roll and more delicate acoustic tunes -- all smoothed over with an exceptional amount of studio gloss. Guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Lunn strums modest and unimaginative melodies; bassist and sometimes singer Charlotte Cooper does the same on her four-string.
Only Lunn's brother, drummer Josh Morgan (it's a long story, they're brothers all the same), brings any zest to his instrument. Whether keeping the beat or showing some technical flair, Morgan hits the skins with an intensity to which the rest of his band-mates seem immune.

Like most bands, The Subways are influenced by a handful of groups that led the music scene during its members' younger days. But in this case, the heroes that inspired The Subways to "rock out" are subject to some ruthless and conspicuous cribbing to cover a lack of ingenuity. From the opening build up to the perfunctory screams, lead single "Rock & Roll Queen" could be a tune penned by Aussie post-grungers The Vines. "Mary," the lazy tune following it, makes a pass at being the younger siblings of Oasis. Tracks like "Oh Yeah," "Holiday" and "City Pavement" all channel Kurt Cobain's work without his talent. Of the 12 songs on Young For Eternity, only two escape the comfort zone of other people's work.

Devoid of the adroitness necessary to develop their own aesthetic, it's hardly surprising the lyrics are just as basic and atrocious. Consider lines from "Mary": "Mary is my best friend / She makes me my tea / She let's me stay around her place / When there's nowhere else to be." The gauzy "Lines of Light" offers no reprieve: "The lines of light / They tell my mind I'm a child / Time passes by / And from it, I cannot hide." And just when you thought it could get no worse, there's "Rock & Roll Queen": "You are the sun / You are the only one / My heart is blue / My heart is blue for you." These poor attempts at nursery rhyme lyricism would be cute if the band's members were 8-years-old, not brain-drained early 20-year-olds.

Two ballads redeem Young For Eternity from becoming grist for a coaster. Semi-electrified love song "Lines of Light" requires listeners to ignore the words and concentrate on the lulling melodies, which are surprisingly enjoyable. "She Sun" employs the same caveat, but is hazy enough to call to mind a particularly satisfying summer nap. It's just enough to suggest The Subways may have more decent songs in them, provided they ditch the rock shtick and take a poetry class.

The Subways is yet another example of a band that confuses the ability to make music with talent, the ability to mimic as the only necessary skill for success. And if you want to make mindless records that set the curve at ankle level, sure, that'll do. But good music, truly inventive and enjoyable music, requires vision that turns influences into starting blocks. Young For Eternity is only The Subway's debut, and the group has an entire career ahead to learn and come into its own. I hope the next time I ask "what the hell happened?" about The Subways, the tone is one of pleasant surprise.

-- Your slightly friendly music critic

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