Review Summary: Some of the Talent is already there, but the songwriting falters.
Billy Talent. Who doesn’t love them!? Here is a band that manages to innovate while keeping their music incredibly fun and sprightly (well, if we don’t count the turgid III
) and their formation cohesive. Authors of such catchy hooks as those in Red Flag, Fallen Leaves, Standing In The Rain, Line and Sinker
and many more, the Canadian four-piece deservedly achieved fame and fortune, becoming one of the most worthwhile names in the contemporary rock scene.
But what few people know is that this band actually had a career before Billy Talent I
. Back then, they were called Pezz, and their sound was still in the formative stages, displaying some of the characteristics that would make the band’s later sound, but also showcasing some shortcomings which keep their “real” debut album, 1998’s Watoosh!
, from joining I
in the big leagues of emotional punk rock.
The most serious of these shortcomings is the lack of choruses, followed by the repetitiveness which affects about half the album. The songs on Watoosh!
are a far cry from the pervasive, perma-sticking hooks of II
, instead relying on what I like to call the group’s “waltz-punk” side. Most of the tracks move along at a leisurely slow tempo, driven by Jon Gallant’s bouncy, intervening bass. In fact, Gallant may well be the standout of the album, even though Billy Talent’s trademarks – Ian D’Sa’s playful guitar leads and Bem Kowalewicz’s schizoid vocals – are already present and accounted for. The bassist’s performance recalls a scaled-down version of those Mike Dirnt put on back when he still cared to show that he could play bass (on albums like Dookie
) and is often the only thing that keeps us interested.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the punkier tracks that constitute the best moments on here. Fairytale
is an early standout, and Tragically Hip cover New Orleans Is Sinking
is simply the best song on the album. Elsewhere, this formula fails to capture our attention, but in general, the rockier songs beat the more melancholy songs through and through. Which isn’t to say that there are no redeeming features to that side of the album: Kowalewicz’s lunatic ravings on Nita
raise a chuckle, both for the delivery and for the actual lyrical content, and a few other songs have good bits, like a sweet chorus, a dub jam section or a fun speed-up towards the end. However, a tendency to repeat formulas – unimaginable in later Billy Talent – and a certain inability to stop when they’re ahead (as evidenced by Mother’s Native Instrument
) end up detracting from what is essentially a promising debut, keeping it from being as seminal as the group’s later output.
Still, if you’re a Billy Talent fan and want to hear the earlier, simpler version of your favorite band’s sound, there’s no harm in giving this a try. Just don’t set your hopes too high, and remember that the band who recorded Watoosh!
still had a long way to go before becoming what they would be later. Half the Talent, however, was already there.
New Orleans Is Sinking