Review Summary: Copyright lawyers could have a field day with this 80s pilfering.
As can be unsubtly seen by the ‘Goonies’ inspired artwork – and album title – ‘Astoria’ is meant to be a loose concept record inspired by Marianas Trench’s love of 1980s fantasy and adventure films. Music, however, isn’t ultimately governed by the sense of sight, but by that of hearing. Considering this, one can only conclude that the fourth LP by the Vancouver pop-rockers is actually influenced by – no, make that imitating – 1980s chart music! While it is rare to find music that is truly unique and original nowadays, it is just as rare to hear an album which directly pilfers so many riffs, melodies and harmonies as ‘Astoria’ does. Are these actually credited samples or interpolations? One hopes so, or else copyright lawyers could have a field day with this record***.
It takes all of about fifteen seconds for the looting to begin, as the opening title track begins with distant drums that will have listeners begging for Mark Knopfler to enter with an awesome guitar solo. Unfortunately, we don’t get our “money for nothing and chicks for free”, instead receiving anti-climactic keys and seven minutes worth of forced key changes that includes a further, ummm, homage to ‘Sweet Dreams’ by The Eurythmics. Follow-up ‘Burning Up’ pinches the riff from ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ by the Fine Young Cannibals, while the admittedly addictive ‘Yesterday’ begins with the beat from George Harrison’s ‘I Got My Mind Set on You’ before also drawing from Kenny Loggins’ ‘Footloose’. Later, the extra cheesy ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ is so obvious in its love of The Jacksons that lead vocalist Josh Ramsay is compelled to close it with “I don’t sound like Mike did, no, but it’s alright for a white kid”!
All of the aforementioned examples don’t even take into account the many influences that would otherwise be simply classified as derivative. Apart from Ramsay mimicking Michael Jackson or Freddie Mercury on most of the seventeen tracks (which include five orchestral interludes), the funky vibe of Prince also pops up a lot. Meanwhile, the quartet step out of the 80s and follow the lead of fun. on the rhythm-strong ‘Who Do You Love’. And then there are the excellent vocal harmonies – provided by all band members – that will remind many listeners of the satisfying bombast of Queen… So much so, that the band clearly reference “killer Queen" on ‘Burning Up’. This latter characteristic is undoubtedly the secret weapon of Marianas Trench in their full transition from pop-punk to pop-rock, an evolution that was foreshadowed by Ramsay’s co-writing and producing credits on Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’.
Thankfully, the latter half of ‘Astoria’ settles down into more of what this talented band does best; a diverse, theatrical and ambitious batch of tunes that occasionally bites off more than the outfit can chew. Anthemic second single ‘Wildfire’ should provide the template for Marianas Trench, while the 8 minute behemoth that is ‘End of an Era’ closes the album in suitably epic fashion. Meanwhile, the ukulele-backed ‘Dearly Departed’ and piano-driven ‘Forget Me Not’ add some welcome variety, as well as a healthy dose of heartfelt personal lyrics. Also of note is the crystal clear production – again, courtesy of Ramsay – which adapts to the diversity appropriately.
In all honesty, ‘Astoria’ is not a bad album at all… Even some of the tunes that borrow heavily from other sources, contain their own catchy melodies and the band’s knack for quirky and interesting song-writing. It’s just that the game of “where have I heard that before” is so over-bearingly disconcerting throughout the LP’s fifty-seven minute duration, that it becomes tough to fully appreciate the songs on their own merits. For that reason, ‘Astoria’ is likely to play better to those under twenty-five years of age. Ramsay even acknowledges this on ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’, with the lyric “If you’re young, it’s new, I guess”.
Recommended Tracks: End of an Era, Yesterday, Wildfire & One Love.
*** Author’s Disclaimer: As at the time of posting this piece, I am unaware if Marianas Trench have given any credits to the writers and/or performers of the original songs mentioned in the above review.