Review Summary: Indie-pop to stadium-rock. All in an album's work for these mainstream Oz rockers.
Any seasoned wine critic will tell you that the renowned drink of the gods will only get better with age. So perhaps this sprightly pop-rock act from Perth, Australia were exercising a hint of irony when they half-named their latest effort after the celebrated potion, as the band’s third record Black Fingernails, Red Wine
proves that the notion of age enhancing quality is not just true of drink – but also music acts.
The release of Eskimo Joe’s A Song Is a City
in 2004 saw a maturing act – who had previously gained fame off the back of a hit EP – take their light-rock sound into somewhat deeper territory. The short, catchy songs still remained, but there was a clear development made since their mostly throwaway debut Girl
in 2001. The release of Black Fingernails, Red Wine
in June 2006 however, saw the band completing the ageing process they had been undergoing since their inception into the Australian music industry, as the group traded simplistic production for haunting lyrics and ethereal pianos. Here, the band finally proves they’re here to stay, and not just to fill the numbers on ARIA night.
Mostly instrumental opener Comfort You
begins things with a clear message. As the vaporous piano meets Stuart MacLeod’s guitar, sounds reminiscent of classic stadium rock hit – and hit even harder when the booming drums finally weigh in. It’s epic and grandiose, but it’s still somehow pop. This is a band telling its audience that they’ve done away with the immature jingles of old and are only interested in serving a set you can really sink your teeth into. Second track New York
underlines the maturity, with the eerie piano hinting at being an album regular.
Lead singer Kavyen Temperley’s voice has matured little since the previous record, but has always been a unique and easily identifiable style which shines through most of their work. Beating Like a Drum
is a thumping track which is only reinforced by Temperley’s eerie vocals, while his efforts on closer How Does It Feel
are borderline spine-tingling. It’s prone to sound a little gimmicky at times, but it’s one of the factors that has contributed to Eskimo Joe’s definable sound, and certainly helps set the band apart from other mainstream rock acts, which is only ever a good thing.
The production is one factor that has improved since their previous outing, with an immediately noticeable “epic” approach that truly screams stadium rock. The drums are thicker, Temperley’s bass shows more prominence, and the aforementioned piano binds it together in a package that could easily be labeled as Muse Down Under
. However, these are still pop songs and tracks like the adorable Breaking Up
and stellar single Sarah
(which does indeed sound unashamedly similar to the main theme from Never Ending Story
) juxtapose this epic theme to great effect. With an attitude like this, I’d be surprised if they weren’t filling arenas in a few years time.
The band’s scope in terms of themes and lyrical content has also widened dramatically, with the likes of moving ballad London Bombs
showing the band can take on world issues, as opposed to the often immaterial themes prevalent on previous albums. The title track also struggles with the idea of religion and it’s often detrimental effects on society.
“The argument over god continues
In this house
All of us stand and point our fingers
At the ground
All of us stand and point our fingers
It’s hard to imagine this is the same band that wrote the immeasurably dorky Sweater
, which struggled with nothing more than the idea of an old man’s clothes.
But maybe this isn’t
the same Eskimo Joe. Sure, the same members are intact, and the insanely catchy pop numbers still prove the ultimate key to the band’s success, but the group’s approach to the art of music has slightly tilted towards something a little more advanced – a little more cerebral. And for those of us who would rather a more intellectual pop methodology, we should welcome it with open ears.