Review Summary: Sometimes you find great music in the unlikeliest of places...
It’s a shame that most talented bands in the world are relegated to toiling away in (relative) obscurity merely by virtue of the fact that they originate outside the USA and UK, while lesser bands from the media and entertainment hotbeds are forced unendingly on the unsuspecting public. Tenpenny Joke are from Australia, and no, they do not sound like AC/DC. Therefore, the world-at-large doesn’t particularly care about them, which is a very, very sad state of affairs. Apparently, Tenpenny Joke has a fairly dedicated fanbase in Australia and New Zealand, but despite this, and with only one album to show for their efforts in a 15 year career,, the future of the band doesn’t look too bright and according to their website they are currently on hiatus.
However, the one album which the band has released is an excellent one. It’s not as if the band has a completely original and groundbreaking sound, but they do what they do extremely well. The band mines the same vein as pretty much every other Alternative Rock band in the world; copping Nirvana's soft-loud dynamic and combining it with Alice in Chains’ penchant for heavy guitars and harmonies. But, even when applying this formula, the band really manages to distinguish itself through its tenacious grasp of melody and strong 70’s influences.
One of the more refreshing things about the band is the ability of vocalist Anthony Casey to stay away from the macho posturing, self-flagellating and general doom-mongering that seems to fascinate frontmen of modern rock bands. He has a fine gritty tenor, which sounds like a cross between Brandon Boyd (Incubus) and Brett Scallions (Fuel) and he manages to convey emotion without ever over-singing. He is finely complemented by guitarist Brian Rimmer and the two make the band’s genre-hopping , from exotic-sounding alt-metal on “She”, to straight-ahead Thin Lizzy-influenced hard rock on “Caroline” to the power-pop of “Popcorn”, both convincing and entertaining.
The classic-rock influences of the band further shine through on the excellent “Across the Ocean” and the light-hearted “Evil Things”. This juxtaposition of sunny 70s Beach Boys-esque melodies and acoustic guitars is sometimes jarring when placed along songs such as the brooding and heavy “Sense” and the charging “Kamikaze”. This approach might seem schizophrenic to some, but it keeps the album from growing stale and boring. The band also tends to sound most comfortable and inspired on their quirkier numbers rather than when they are recycling post-grunge and modern-rock clichés on songs such as the relatively mediocre “Don’t Go” and “Never Enough”. However, the band still manages to salvage the more generic numbers with vocal and guitar hooks galore. The band even has time to throw in a pair of instrumentals; the gorgeous acoustic “Shadow in the Glass” and hard-rocking album-closer “Flood” which, despite its guitar hooks, ends up sounding like a half-finished song idea that the band didn’t feel like writing lyrics to.
Ultimately, the band occasionally sounds like a classic rock band trying to fit into a post grunge mold, but they consistently distinguish themselves with catchy melodies and guitar solos and even at their worst, the band is only average, while at their best they are immediate and catchy without sacrificing too much originality. It's just unfortunate that few people north of the equator will ever get the chance to hear them.
Across the Ocean