The Orwells. I have to admit I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for these guys. They went to my High School’s rival, York in Elmhurst, Illinois. Well they weren’t much of a rival, we basically whooped up on them, so maybe that’s why I’m pulling for them. Who knew that a small-town Illinois band could channel the Troggs and The Kingsmen bashing out like they’re plugged in next to a Beetle in a 1960s garage? They may not be in orbit, but The Orwells have definitely left the stratosphere. I first caught their act at the Spillover fest in Dallas TX. They made quite an impression. Singer Mario Cuomo strutted onto the stage like a rock and roll diva: blond tresses, poofy shirt straight outta Seinfeld, and 1970s-era 4 inch heels; which to me indicated that these guys did not give a fuck. A point that was driven home when they tore down the 30-foot velvet curtains precipitating an onstage melee. So they had the attitude, they had the swagger; but could they back it up? I have to admit, after that show, I was not convinced. I bought their record “Remember When” anyway and it passed the “What is this” test; which means when it came up on the Ipod, I would say to myself “What is this?” A good sign. I had it on heavy rotation going forward. Let me throw into the mix that these guys are signed on to play Riot Fest this year. And I am anxiously awaiting their set. With all that history, I felt primed to take on their major-label sophomore effort, “Terrible Human Beings.”
When it comes to comparisons, I think most often these guys get lumped in with the Strokes. I’d say that’s fair. They have a garage/surf sound that could also remind you of Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, or Fidlar. As I drove through the flats of west Oklahoma for work, I had this record on repeat. Was that a bad thing? Definitely not. Was it a great thing? Not really. Given the hype around these guys and the fact that “Remember When” is pretty solid, I figured this album would blow me away. It didn’t. What about the tunes? “They put a body in the bayou” opens the record with a hypnotic jangly riff that pretty much personifies their surf style. Track two, “Fry,” picks up the tempo and provides corroboration for any Strokes comparisons out there. “Creatures” brings a sultry slinky riff into the mix and for some reason the song reminds me of novelty 60s garage tunes like “Flying Purple People Eater.” The one song that redeems this entire album in my opinion is “Vacation” great hook, incendiary lyrics, it’s the whole enchilada. “Turn off your television, your permission kills civilians, no one can feel your vision, they’re on vacation masturbating.” That certainly paints a picture. On “Black Francis” the band attempts some kind of homage to the Pixies. I failed to make the connection. “M.A.D” and “Buddy” display the Orwells’ ability to craft a catchy tune, but like pop rocks candy it quickly dissipates. Of the remaining tunes on the record, “Last Call (Go Home)” is the only one I found worthy of repeat listens.
The quick and dirty: IF you’re a fan of surf rock, you’ll dig this album. It’s a solid representation of the genre. If you are a person just looking for a great record, look elsewhere. Check out The Orwells’ “Remember When” and work your way up from there. I’m still anxious to see these guys at Riot Fest. Maybe they’ll reignite my interest in “Terrible Human Beings.”