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It’s undeniable that Australian fans of alt rock owe a lot to Violent Soho. The renaissance they’ve led for a love of guitars and angst drenched vocals in the face of the ever-increasing dominance of electronic music and Australian hip hop on local alternative music airwaves has been thrilling to watch, as their popularity surged in the three years since the release of their surprise breakout album Hungry Ghost.
The grunge revivalists have been elevated from “that band that kind of had a thing with Thurston Moore a few years ago,” to genuine festival headliners and Rolling Stone magazine cover material. And as they’ve scrambled up on to the giant Australian rock throne that has been laying dormant for years, the satisfied screams of “Hell fuck yeah!” felt justified with the knowledge that the Brisbane four-piece had been slogging it out both locally and internationally for over a decade and were finally getting their golden moment.
Everything from their interactions with the press and public, through to the way they recently handled scalpers taking advantage of their shows has held them up as the rock stars you can believe in and probably smash a beer or bong with too.
Underdog / total legends status aside though, expectations for follow up record Waco are also higher than ever. Australian audiences are already well and truly in love with the Violent Soho story, and although this record will probably not make or break them as a band, it will serve as a litmus test on how they plan to evolve musically. The success of early singles Like Soda and Viceroy surfing straight into high radio rotation, could be pretty easily attributed to cruising on that huge wave of momentum, and it couldn’t be said that either track suggested there’d been much innovation in the band’s sound.
Unfortunately, they’re also emblematic for the album as a whole. To put it cut and dry – Waco is a solid record but it is a safe record.
There are moments on the album that are begging to be blasted from stadium speakers (opener How To Taste is an avalanche of power and vocal chords shredded together into what is one of the most quintessential Violent Soho tracks they’ve cut to tape), where as other big moments like Slow Wave and Blanket are going to send fists and shoes flying through the air, as mosh pits around the country pulsate with bodies, and party stereo speakers explode in unison.
But you also can’t deny that Waco is the sound of a band in its comfort zone, content in the direction they were already headed – maybe more so than ever. The 90s alt rock clichés that they formulated their sound upon and found a massive hungry audience with are almost too precisely replicated. Pixies, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo, Blink 182, early Foo Fighters – it’s all there and in a way frustratingly identifiable, with influences being worn up and down sleeves, rather than deconstructed and sown into those Violent Soho t-shirts you see at every festival or slightly punk rock skewed pub in your area.
The verses of Evergreen for example, sound exactly like the verses of the Foo Fighters’ Everlong and Smashing Pumpkins’ Perfect cut and pasted together. Those are the moments that leave me particularly frustrated – knowing I can go and pick out elements of classic songs and run the same melodies and vocal manoeuvres against music that was buried in my brain a generation ago.
I can already picture international critics drawing similar conclusions quickly as well, especially without the context of who the band are in relation to their Australian audience, and I find that depressing. They are after all a great representation of our collective love for music. But I will also agree with said critics that there just isn’t as much originality here as I’d hoped, and nothing that would lead me to champion them as one of the best bands in the world, as opposed to their contemporaries in local status Tame Impala or Courtney Barnett.
And despite all that, I’m still going to scream “Hell fuck yeah!” with everyone else because I too love and believe in Violent Soho as a great band. But on Waco they’ve left me holding out for something more.
Watch: Violent Soho – Like Soda