Review Summary: Not punching out anytime soon...the Arkells show the world that they're here to stay with their impressive debut.
It’s simple, rough around the edges and at times very nostalgic. No, I’m not talking about downtown Hamilton; I’m talking about the Arkells’ appropriately titled debut Jackson Square. The Hamilton based quintet rose to overnight stardom thanks to the success of their first single “Oh, The Boss Is Coming!” (You couldn’t turn on a radio this past summer without hearing it). They quickly proved they’re not another one-hit-wonder, releasing the equally successful follow-up “Ballad of Hugo Chavez.” Well it may be a little early to anoint them as “Canada’s next best thing,” it certainly wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.
Jackson Square is a textbook rock n’ roll record. It’s got the perfect mix of piano driven ballads, upbeat pop tunes, bluesy riffs and guitar smashing anthems to please just about any music fan. The Hamilton influence is evident almost immediately on the very blue collar “Deadlines.” It eases itself in, before speeding up and trailing off into “Pulling Punches.” These songs aren’t anything new or innovative, just a lot of fun. Next up’s that catchy song about corruption in the workforce. Easily one of the best singles released this year, “Oh, The Boss Is Coming!” wastes little time with pleasantries and speaks for itself: “You better not be sitting/or punch in early/but be prepared to stay real late…” It’s an anthem for average Joes everywhere who hate their boss.
“Ballad of Hugo Chavez” is another positive off Jackson Square. The song is written from the perspective of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez about his arrest in 1992 for rebelling against the government. During his 2-year stint in the prison, Chavez developed an eye disease, which slowly distorted his vision. Hence the chorus: “In the night of the sun…” It’s a sympathetic look at a man who was imprisoned just for standing up against corruption (Otherwise known as sticking it to the man, which, as Jack Black taught us, is what rock n’ roll is all about). The album presses forward with “Tragic Flaw”, another fun rock n’ roll song about the pain of losing the one you love and of having to see her move on without you. “No Champagne Socialist” is set in the past and tells a story of a young man coming to terms with who he is and who he isn’t. The harmonica in the chorus is a welcome addition. The album’s slowest song “Abigail” examines two lovers and how they’ve grown apart since they’ve met. Surely something most can relate to. The band speeds things up again on “Heart of the City.” They score points for Hamilton-inspired lyrics like: “In the heart of the city/good hearts will break/is this a test to see/how much we can take?” (Reference to our failed attempts at an NHL franchise perhaps?)
“I’m Not the Sun” is a simple, lazy song about infatuation laid overtop of excellent guitar work. ”The Choir” deals with the grief of loss and the difficulty we all share in accepting death. It’s the most beautiful song on an album full of standouts like the excellent “John Lennon” which is arguably the only one that can challenge “The Boss” for honours of ‘best song’ on Jackson Square. The sing-along chorus accompanied by an infectious piano hook make this one memorable, but the sarcastic conversational writing style make it great: “She tells me her favourite song/and I say: ‘yeah that’s a good one’/she says it follows her around/no ***, it’s by The Beatles.” They end the album on a high note with “Blueprint”, the kind of fast, aggressive rock song they’re becoming known for, complete with their signature gang vocals.
Now Jackson Square is by no means a classic, nor is it going to bring us some kind of musical revolution but it is a very, very good debut for a very promising band that nobody heard of 2 years ago. They thrive off of no nonsense rock n’ roll, loud guitars, and the soulful vocal styling of Max Kerman. The Arkells have just punched in as rock n’ roll’s newest pioneers…and it doesn’t look like they’re about to be punching out anytime soon.