Since slimming down to the core trio of Craig Fox (guitar/vocals), Patrick Keeler (drums) and Jack Lawrence (bass/vocals), the Greenhornes have experienced a long hiatus since 2002’s Dual Mono. In that time, and much like the effect its had for the White Stripes and Brendan Benson respectively, Keeler and Lawrence’s experiences with the Raconteurs seems to have influenced their sound most of all upon returning to their original project. That’s not to say that the Greenhornes’ sound owes a great deal to Brendan Benson and Jack White (and that’s a subject for a later debate), but like the other members of the Raconteurs, there’s something a little more adventurous about their work now post-“Consolers of the Lonely.”
After the jump: the full review of “****”.
Naming an album “****” is pretty gutsy. It may be simply a reflection that this is technically their fourth full LP, or suggestion that the band has grown in such a way that they deserve such a grade from critics who use the star system. Take a cue from the CD sleeve that accompanies the cover of the album (inside: a leopard that folds out book-style to reveal the album and liner notes — written by Jim Jarmusch — within; outside: all-black cover with the band’s name and four stars, one markedly brighter than the others) and you could analyze however you wish that to mean about the contributions of each member, but that’s also a debate for a later time. I make a deal of this, as it was designed in part by Patrick Keeler, and in my opinion, is particularly brilliant.
The album itself goes over familiar ground for the Greenhornes, relying on the sound of blues-based Brit Invasion-style rock in the vein of the Yardbirds and Rolling Stones. But what sets this disc apart from the previous work is that the songwriting is a little brighter, with flourishes of pop-psych, exercised to perfection on tracks like “Left the World Behind,” that combine power chord choruses with trickling verses. Or on the follow-up, “Go tell Henry” that exudes lounge coolness in between heavier choruses, like a storm that goes between delicate rainfall and thunder. It’s an acid trip that could go either way.
Then there are the tracks that are unapologetic in wearing British pop influence, like “Get Me Out of Here” a bright cross between vaudeville and pop that could be a lost Zombies or Kinks tune. Craig Fox’s vocals on this one are the star, in front of the keyboards provided by guest player Andrew Higley. But I do have to shine a special light on the album opener, “Saying Goodbye,” and say it’s a prime example on how to kick off an album, especially after an eight year hiatus. Imagine the pop-punk (and a little psych) of classic Greenhornes track “Pattern Skies,” with an even bigger sense of how impressive their own power is. These are three extremely talented musicians, and know exactly where to focus their strengths for the sake of being a great band, with no particular presence overbearing the other members of the group — an ideal that most bands lose sight of.
Grade: A-. I hope this is a welcome back for the Greenhornes, who have always had a special place in the garage rock community as being authentic without too much of the stylistic flairs that bands go for (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that). The Greenhornes are, quite simply, the best band out there when it comes to playing as a band. That may make them seem like shrinking violets in light of most bands, but those are bands where clearly not everybody is pulling their own weight. Jack Lawrence is one hell of a bass player when it comes to pulling the sound together, Craig Fox’s guitar work continues to amaze (though he may not show it on stage — MORE ON THAT LATER!), and Patrick Keeler proves himself to be one of, if not THEE, top drummers in rock. Welcome back, Greenhornes. Now please, don’t ever leave.
Stay tuned, Electric Comic Book readers: I also have a review of the Greenhornes from their show at the Bowery Ballroom (Tuesday, November 30) along with Brooklyn’s very own the Ettes, as well as a review of their latest, “Do You Want Power.”