It’s hard to hear about Free Energy and not also hear about all of the different bands that the members seem to be paying homage to. At this point, the “glam-pop” stylings of any group aren’t exactly going to come off as particularly innovative or original, but it’s not as if that’s the point. Citing influences like T. Rex or Thin Lizzy is fairly commonplace, but it's not in and of itself the source of appeal.
Since Free Energy popped up on the grid a year ago, they've seemed out of place in a good way. No matter how flexible the definition has always been, they are not what you might call an "indie rock" band. It started with the five Philadelphians' first mpfree single last spring, "Dream City". The song is a distinctly American take on glam-boogie that immediately brings to mind teenage imagery: cruising around with friends late at night; inhaling bad beer way before you legally should; bottling the kind of wide-eyed, wild-haired feeling that galvanized Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused.
Free Energy is a quintet from Philadelphia, but they sound like they hail from Rock City, USA. Their debut album, Stuck on Nothing, is textbook rock & roll from the soaring guitar riffs, arena-rocking chants, and numbskull lyrics to the string sections, heavy grooves, and carefree attitude. It’s all done lovingly and with no jokes, crafted to sound like it should have been beaming through a tiny transistor radio in 1975, or pumping through a boom box in 1983.
Consisting largely of cock rock signifiers, Free Energy’s debut record Stuck On Nothing might initially come across as a pointless exercise in derivation. Despite the obvious rockist pastiche, Free Energy are engaged in more than a stale recreation of classic rock reference points; their attitude and approach exhibit a refreshing philosophy that is at least as reverential as referential. Every one of this album’s 10 songs is an unabashed testament to youth in verse; emphasis, in this case, on testament.
Free Energy are derivative. They sound like Cheap Trick. They sound like Weezer. They even sound a little bit like the Strokes. After months of this criticism against their fantastic singles “Free Energy” and “Dream City”, their debut Stuck on Nothin’ has arrived and responds with a proud ….
Superficially, Free Energy are pretty basic. They make pop-rock in its most undiluted form, with no clouds of DIY fuzz or angst-ridden feedback to cloud their hooks. They sing about being in love in all of its adolescence, borrowing the same sort of glimmering idealism Born to Run patented. So I wouldn’t blame you for expecting their debut to be an entirely forgettable affair.
Forgettable summer fun Free Energy’s debut LP boasts all the youthful zeal of the first day of summer break: kids tumbling down the front steps of school, making a beeline for swim trunks, trampolines and sunburns while flinging homework papers high into the air. Stuck on Nothing’s gargantuan hooks and snappy “nah-nah-nah-nah’s” guarantee the album’s place in convertible stereos and poolside boom-boxes well into August. The band’s sheer tenacity gives the tracks a dizzying exuberance, but they don’t quite have the chops to deliver their generation’s “Summer in the City”; tracks like “Dream City” and “Bang Pop” are delightful, but as disposable as cheap plastic sunglasses.
Every Thursday my hometown pub hosts a live music night. The sorts of bands that play are invariably old boys serving up a good old fashioned stodge of refried village-fete pub rock, the sort of music that would make James May think twice before reaching for the clippers. Good fun for those involved, but not the sort of thing that’s ever going to set Pitchfork’s prongs-a-glowing, and certainly not the sort of thing to get rabid blog-buzz after courting one of NY’s finest producers.