Release Date: Mar 13, 2012
Record label: Republic
Grime versus glam. Grunge against gloss. A perfect ‘Aladdin Sane’ flashbolt smeared with grisly [a]Pixies[/a] gore. [a]Pulp[/a]’s shiniest synth hits dipped in diesel. Dissect [a]Tribes[/a]’ filthy/sweet dichotomy – that delicious clash of bright melody and dank garage noise – whichever ….
"We were children in the mid-90s," sings Johnny Lloyd of hotly tipped London quartet Tribes, and the influence of the period looms large in the Pixies-type descending chords and Bellyish melodic basslines. However, with inspiration also coming via T Rex and Mott the Hoople, this strong debut is an unlikely collision of alt-rock and glam rock. With Lloyd coming across like a latterday Ian Hunter, the songs are big on riffs, hooks, choruses, sex and swagger, although there's enough going on lyrically to suggest more depth than just sharp songwriting.
Alongside the likes of Spector, Bos Angeles, and Zulu Winter, Camden four-piece Tribes have been hailed by the music press as one of the guitar bands capable of reviving the struggling indie scene, a rather optimistic hope considering their fuzz-soaked debut, Baby, feels more like a leftover relic from the '90s than the game-changer the genre needs. Indeed, frontman Johnny Lloyd, part-Johnny Borrell/part-Marc Bolan, and company may have been labeled grunge revivalists, but apart from the Nevermind-esque bassline that opens the swaggering noise rock of opener "Whenever" and the stodgy, glam-tinged "We Were Children," which borrows the guitar hook from the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind," it's the era of Cool Britannia that appears to have provided the blueprint for Baby's 11 tracks. At times, it threatens to reach the heights of the Brit-pop greats, such as the ghostly swamp rock of "Alone or with Friends," which sounds like a cross between Blur's lo-fi offerings and Oasis' Noel-fronted epics, and the Suede-ish melancholy of "Corner of an English Field," one of several songs that refer to the recent death of Lloyd's childhood friend, Ou Est le Swimming Pool's Charles Haddon.
Here’s what indie music was missing in 2011 - the reliable 12-track 40 minute thrash-down. Any rock band naming their debut after a Justin Bieber hit have got to be worth investigating, and Tribes certainly are, resolutely denying any change in music since the year the Longpigs broke up. One glance at their cover art tells you all you need to know: 'We take ourselves more seriously than Towers of London, and also, it’s well past time grunge made a comeback.' There’s an army of Chalk Farm teens who agree with them, flashing their iPhone lighter apps at any of the band’s lively in-stores.
"I wish it was the 60s. I wish we could be happy." "The kids of today should defend themselves against the '70s…look what it did to us." "The '80s almost killed me, let's not recall them quite so fondly." Though delivered with various levels of irony, each of those lyrics makes the same point: Retromania is inevitably a practice in revisionist history. For those of us coming of age during this Kennedy administration, I present Baby, the debut album from Camden quartet Tribes.
There might be some justification to Tribes' billing as grunge revivalists if their debut didn't sound so English. True, there's a Seattle-derived chug to opener "Whenever" and "Himalaya" strains for the stadium pomp of Smashing Pumpkins. But Johnny Lloyd's vocals – part street-urchin husk, part theatrical flounce – and a fondness for grubby London vignettes mean they could just as easily be Libertines acolytes with distortion pedals.
Sometimes new music can become a very complex and confusing business indeed, where more importance seems to lie with the number of adjectives you can cram into an album description than the actual music. Thank goodness for Tribes’ debut album then, which is subject to a distinct lack of silly descriptive nonsense. Unlike many of the overly arrogant rock revivalists of the moment, who are all talk and terribly tight trousers (yes, Viva Brother, back to the naughty step please) Tribes seem pretty modest about their rock n’ roll credentials.
A spirited debut full of big choruses, but lacking in singular ingenuity. Louis Pattison 2012 Of course, there’s never been such a thing as a dead cert. But as 2012 greets us with a new batch of hopefuls, it feels like being a guitar band tipped for big things is an ever-more parlous situation to be in. One thinks of several thousand sperm racing to be the one to fertilise that sole egg, or a wretched World War One tommy trudging through no man’s land as the sky shrieks with bullets.