Judging by Flatcat’s barren bandcamp page, it would be easy for someone who had never heard of the Belgian band to jump to the conclusion that Heartless Machine was their debut album. But the person to do that would be dead wrong. I know because that’s exactly what did. A quick Google search would reveal that Flatcat has been around since 1993, and Heartless Machine is actually their third album. Unfortunately, that revelation is the album’s un-doing, and some of the mistakes that could have been easily forgiven for a first time studio effort aren’t so easy to dismiss knowing that the band recently celebrated 20 years.
The album begins with “Butterface”, a fast tune that, despite it’s catchy melody, doesn’t set a very inspiring first impression. As one might expect, the song is about a girl who is, to put it bluntly, a “butterface”. This kind of terminology is what you’d expect to hear from a group of newly inducted-frat boys recounting their weekend before a Monday morning lecture, or even from a young and sexually-frustrated pop punk (with or without breakdowns) act, but not really from a band whose members have to be at least thirty years of age. Or maybe I’m just an idealist who hopes that thirty-year-old men would grow out of being judgmental in the same way that a seventeen-year-old boy would be judgmental, I don’t know.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox. The good news is that the rest of the album gets better from its questionable start. There’s a lot about this album that could be summed up as very Warped circa 2003 sounding. The catchy melodies of “Butterface” don’t disappear, and the lyrics step away from the blink-182-ish juvenility and move in a more self-reflective direction; with themes of alienation and coming to terms with growing old taking the forefront. The 1-2-3 sequence of “Take Shelter”, “Leech”, and “Not What I Signed Up For” might be the strongest stuff that this album has to offer, although if you’re hankering for a melodic punk album almost any track here will do. Other than the near-folksy bounce of “Not What I Signed Up For”, there’s not a whole lot of musical diversity on Heartless Machine. I mean this in the nicest way possible.
Considering it took 8 years for this album to come out, Heartless Machine never tries to make it a point of celebrating the band’s return to the recording world. Maybe it’s because Flatcat doesn’t carry the same weight in the punk scene as some other bands, but this lack of making a big racket can be seen as either a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, a new album should, in theory, be a cause for celebration especially when it’s been nearly a decade since its predecessor was released. On the other hand, why make a fuss about the release of a new album when you could just focus on the music (arguably one of the more important aspects of releasing new music)? For better or for worse, Flatcat takes the latter approach.
Other than the opening track, I really don’t have as much of a problem with Heartless Machine as I might make it sound. It’s a very consistent album that has a set destination in mind and always keeps to its course. If you can’t stand the fact that The Ataris and Sugarcult, and maybe even Lagwagon, all haven’t released a full length album in ages, Heartless Machine is right up your alley. It not necessarily be the proper follow up to those bands most recent respective albums, but it will add some kind of variety to your playlists.