Release Date: Jun 3, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Straight outta high school, straight onto the road, come The Orwells. They’re here to drink your beer, eat your crisps and make a godawful mess of your sofas. More than that, they’re out to make men of themselves. Maybe even legends.Where these Chicago reprobates differ from their icons – MC5, The Stooges, Led Zep, The Doors – is that they’re much better on record than on stage.
Almost every band dreams of one day meeting David Letterman, and The Orwells, whether they meant to or not, found a way to crack the king of late night comedy’s code. In January, the raucous garage pop act banged out an intoxicating rendition of “Who Needs You”, the lead single from their major label debut, Disgraceland, on the Late Show. Highlighted by the bizarre theatrics of frontman Mario Cuomo, the performance prompted a surprisingly spirited reaction from Letterman, who urged the band to keep playing through the credits.
Listening to Disgraceland, the second album from Illinois-based garage rock revivalists the Orwells, the band's languid sound and jaded cool make it easy to almost forget that just a year ago its members were graduating from high school. And rather than be a hindrance to the band, their age is actually a boon. Having come of age when the garage revival was coming to a boil, it's clear that the Orwells learned a lot from bands like the Strokes and Black Lips, embracing not only the sound, but the "like it or don't, whatever" attitude that those bands exude.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The Chicago quintet has emerged from the garage into the shiny studio and open arms of three accomplished record producers for their new album Disgraceland. It is difficult to discuss the garage-punk band without reference to 'the Letterman performance' of 'Who Needs You' in January, which is the lead single on the record.
At the midpoint of “Always and Forever”, a characteristically half-charming/half-shambolic fuzz pop number from Illinois quintet The Orwell’s sophomore full-length, Disgraceland, singer Mario Cuomo pauses to share the spotlight with the piped-in sound of a revving motor. The quick sampling of All American noise is something of a synecdoche for the album at large, a quick, rumbly metaphor for the ways in which Disgraceland plays fast and loose with the variable Americana of sixty years of stateside rock, punk, indie, blues, and soul. The title even attempts a pun on a classic album from one of the United States’ three or four best songwriters, though it’s anyone’s guess what the band’s point is in that wordplay, besides perhaps some acknowledgement of the problematic, false-utopian (who knew false utopia’s better than Orwell?) nature of the suburbs depicted on the album’s cover.
When the Orwells appeared on "Letterman" last January, they did exactly what any upstart rock ‘n’ roll band making their network television debut should do: make complete asses of themselves. The suburban-Chicago quintet chugged through the first verse of their single “Who Needs You” without incident—but by the second verse, frontman Mario Cuomo (no, not that one) stopped singing as if defying some non-existent CBS lip-sync policy, splayed himself across the floor in front of his monitors to perform a couple of yoga bridge poses, and curled up on the couch to become Dave’s most non-communicative guest since Joaquin Phoenix. If the point of the spectacle was to show just how little they give a fuck about impressing the public, it failed miserably: not only did Dave and Paul Shaffer enthusiastically applaud the performance, they begged the befuddled band to keep playing, before Shaffer just took matters into his own hands.
Given that it's fun, tuneful and to-the-point, why does the second album from Chicago garage-rock quintet the Orwells feel a bit of a disappointment? Perhaps it's because their effervescent live show – recommended to anyone who likes to see guitar bands kicking off – rather overshadows any recording (a problem for garage bands for the best part of 50 years, frankly). More, though, because of the gap between the promise and the delivery: the Orwells spend a lot of time saying they're wild, without actually sounding terribly wild. Images of violence haunt Mario Cuomo's lyrics – "My daddy's got a 12-gauge, I hope I don't find it," he sings on the Pixies-lite Gotta Get Down; "Blood in my hair, blood on my sneakers, blood in the shot glass, blood on my sneakers," he offers on Norman – but beneath his voice, the guitars shine like they've employed a French polisher to buff them up.
Meet The Orwells, the living embodiment of rock music as an asylum for every dysfunctional screw-up and half-wit who can’t quite manage to reach the status of “human being. ” This analogy isn’t meant as an insult or dismissal, but as praise, because rather than pay hollow lip-service to some hypothetical social evolution or revolution that no manipulation of sound could ever prophesize without hitching itself onto the exercise of bona fide physical and political power, their sophomore record — and major-label debut — is at least honest, in the sense that it’s nothing more than another unapologetic apology for the typical rock & roll band’s pathological inability to enter the mainstream of human civilization as responsible, card-carrying adults. Every single rabble-rousing anthem on Disgraceland is tied over with at least one admission of inadequacy, awkwardness, and fallibility, and in the context of 11 scruffy, crude thumpers made for and by rejects of the 21st century, this self-prostration and flagellation before a world the band has no hope of accessing couldn’t be more just.