When 2006 wraps up, it’ll be hard to think of another show as fun as the Big Easy’s stage for the Best Music Poll Festival back in May, with Cosades and Loverless opening for Rock Kills Kid. And I can say that with some hope of retaining integrity, as I had nothing to do with booking that show, but moved heaven and earth to make sure I saw it. In fact, Rock Kills Kid, a little bit of a California rock sensation at the time, were a late surprise, looking to fill a date in a northeast swing.
In short, I was there to see Rock Kills Kid, but I discovered Loverless anew, and I’m glad of it. They put on an entertaining and hard-charging set, giving the national act that would follow all they could handle in fulfilling their headlining responsibilities. There’s no overestimating the power of presence in delivering a successful live show, one pound of charisma making up for every ounce of execution that might be a bit off. Thus was Loverless’ three-piece able to nearly replicate the sound delivered by five lads from Los Angeles and their mascara.
So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Fighter, their sophomore album released a year to the week after their self-titled debut, is one of the rare records nowadays that sounds better on the car stereo than through the headphones. For their sound to work best, Loverless need some slurring of tracks, a roughness around the edges that’s hard to retain when you’re working with today’s recording technology and pros like Jon Wyman and Adam Ayan. It’s a shame this disc is being released in the first week of fall because it’s perfect for top-down driving, with plenty of steering-wheel-pounding rhythm and sneer-along vocals.
This is something of a departure from the first record, though. Whereas Loverless’ debut featured a fair amount of jam and psychedelic aesthetic, a song or two sprawling past the five-minute mark, Fighter is concise like Elvis’s material from the 1950s, five of the 10 songs under three minutes, and just one over four. The songs hit you quick, but this isn’t the pop-punk with which you might correlate that. Often, the band are playing fast, but frontman Elijah Ocean sings in a well enunciated, swaggering baritone, a lot like the Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill, but with slightly less effect.
Ocean oozes rock-star, confident and aggressive, and his rhythm section give him all the punch he needs to back up his bravado. The title track is probably the best song on of the album, and opens with a rolling menace of a bass line from Danny MacLeod that introduces an aggressive guitar chunk and, “I’m not a fighter, but I’ll fight for you.” Maybe they aren’t fighters because Loverless are just a little bit pretty, as when the bridge comes in here, mimicking the guitar line until the guitar eats a bunch of acid and the bass returns to its opening salvo in parallel. The pedal use on the guitar lead is slick, with progressions appropriate to the effects and good variation in the guitar tone.
As the songwriting goes, there’s not much revolutionary here. Most of it is a natural progression from bluesy ZZ Top, boozy Iggy Pop, and the time when David Lee Roth covered Brian Wilson. Maybe you’ll hear some MC5, too, and a Stray Cat strut. But the little things are attended to well, and there should be enough to keep music nerds interested.
In “I Got My Grip on You,” listen for the plosive at the end of the chorus’s “grip” that ought to be notice of a likely passing shower for future front rows, or for the great drum roll from Michael Anderson introducing the second verse of “Why You Such a Pill.” In “Motherless Child,” it’s easy to appreciate the transition from delicate dirge to guitar distortion wash to finish like a drunkenly slurred Elvis Costello singing Irish drinking songs.
There’s simply something about “How to Undress in Front of Your Husband” — “She’s the one that I want/She’s the one that I love/She’s the one, but she’s runnin’ with you” — that recalls James Dean movies and cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of your white T-shirt without seeming dated.
As we ease into our second half-century of rock and roll, let’s hope there’s always a place for that.