Release Date: 10.01.2020
Record Label: Bridge 9
For Fans Of: The Replacements, The Dirty Nil, The Hold Steady.
Philadelphia’s Beach Slang have always had one eye on a slightly higher, grander stage than their punk rock roots might have you believe. 2016’s A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is rather accurately summarised with its title. It was loud and heartfelt rally celebrating the music and youth that band-leader James Alex grew up with. If A Loud Bash… was a rally then The Deadbeat Gang of Heartbreak City is a love-letter to the stadium rock and power-pop of the 80s – Alex has never been shy about his love of The Replacements and that definitely shines through. However this record still offers far more than a nostalgia trip and feels like a genuine attempt to show what can still be done with that sound in much the same vein as The Dirty Nil and White Reaper in recent years.
As Alex is the sole writer and arranger for all of Beach Slang’s output it becomes understandable how the sharp shifts in style and sound can feel so natural and easy. Yet still the one constant is his retention of the same street-poet vibe which isn’t too dissimilar to Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. There is a grit to his vocals which helps keep the record grounded even in its wackier moments such as lead single, ‘Bam Rang Rang’. The song contains perhaps one of the most flagrant displays of swagger in modern rock music as it appears to end abruptly in a wail of feedback before strutting back into your ears with another filthy riff and proves that everything actually can be improved with more cowbell. A similar down and dirty vibe is present through ‘Stiff’ which mixes a hard-rock bluesy riff with grungy undertones to bring the sound into the 21st century.
‘Tommy in the 80s’ is a genuinely touching tribute to songwriter Tommy Keene who passed away in 2017. The line ‘Tommy’s on the radio / Comin’ to life’ so simply sums up the power that music can hold. The track is so full of spirit and life that I want to go back and explore the back catalogue of the man who inspired it having never heard of him previously.
We also see acoustic project Quiet Slang crossing over into Beach Slang’s sound for some tracks on the record with ‘Nobody Say Nothing’ and ‘Nowhere Bus’ pretty much being one song split across two-tracks which feel much more personal and closer to folk-storytelling in a complete contrast to the glitz and glam which covers the rest of the record.
The real departure though comes with closer ‘Bar No One’ which strangely seems to be fixated on death on a record which is so full of life. It features the same lone, haunting piano line punctuated with the refrain ‘I want to look pretty laying in my grave’ before fading out with what sounds like home-recordings of children playing and a beautiful string section. It makes for a strange end to what was mostly a rollicking and celebratory affair yet there is no doubting its effectiveness.
On ‘Let it Ride’, James Alex sings “I’m just another drunk in another bar/ Murdering songs on a dead guitar/ They wreck my fists but can fix my heart.” Romanticised though it might be if someone can find a more accurate summation of modern rock music then I would be stunned and that spirit is all over this record. The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City is rock n roll played how it should be. Confidence without arrogance, heart without being overwrought, and an inventiveness that can bring a new generation to an old sound.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Let It Ride’, ‘Tommy In the 80s’, ‘Stiff’