Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
Look Mexico do their best Bruce Springsteen impression on the opening track of To Bed To Battle (Suburban Home), “You Stay. I Go. No Following.” Somehow I find it much easier to believe these guys’ collars are bluer than the Boss’, whose 2009 North American tour grossed $95 million. Matt Agrella sings “thanks to all your promises, we’re picking up extra shifts these days and it’s not paying the bills working for minimum wage.”
The juxtaposition of Agrella’s, Pinkham’s and Slate’s vocals add a great dynamic to the break at the end of the opening track. On a good day, one might liken the diverse vocal styles to At The Drive-In while a more testy critic might stoop to an Emery comparison. I’m in a good mood and the first song on the album takes no prisoners in its balls-to-the-wall rock, so I’m going to chalk this up as a shout-out to Cedric and Jim from the legendary El Paso group.
There’s a lot more going on in these songs than just the down-on-his-luck-working-class-stiff-lyrics. While the melodies and lyrics have a punk rock-leaning, the musicianship of the members give evidence of real talent (no offense punk bands, but the hardest thing about playing the same three bar chords over and over again is not throwing up from the repetition).
On “No Wonder I’m Still Awake,” Agrella and guitarists Ryan Slate and Dave Pinkham display their dexterity without showing off or wandering into the Fall of Troy-style finger acrobatics that impress but ultimately distract.
Tastefulness is key.
Three members contribute guitar tracks on the album and if there is one thing this album has an abundance of, it’s great riffs. The hammered-on/pulled-off guitar hook of “No Wonder” and the opening riff of “They Offered Me A Deal (I Said No Naturally)” both made me want to jump onto ultimate-guitar.com and learn the songs (then rip them off and use them in my own songs).
“Take It Upstairs, Einstein” turns the Against Me! folk punk to 11 and the band uses violin and cello to ensure listeners get as much of one style as they do the other.
If there is one area that could use improvement, it’s in song writing. At times it almost seems like the band was afraid to stray from their formula. Shoot, even Pepsi made Crystal Pepsi for awhile. It might not have made for anything more than a great segment on I Love the ’90s but at least it was a risk, which I respect.
About halfway through the album it begins to feel as if the same ground is being covered over and over again. The band can rely on it’s musical talent and the earnestness of the vocal delivery but that can only take a song so far. The songs in the middle of the album flat line at times and I started wondering if this album should have been shorn down to what would have been a fantastic EP.
Album closer “Just Like Old Times” is a perfect example of a song that remains pretty static throughout. About halfway through the, the band erupts into a bar of chaotic noise but the payoff is short-lived. Things taper off from there and when the sleigh bells come in, it is confirmation that the song will meander off into noodling wankery. Maybe a good jam at the practice space, but not the knockout punch this album sorely needed.
It’s clear these boys are passionate about their message but in the end their passion is not enough to turn a decent album into a great one.
Red River rating: 7 out of 10