Review Summary: Everything sure is okay. Just okay.
Fame in the Australian rock scene seems increasingly fleeting. Take a look back at any mid-2000’s music publication, be it the charts, Triple J Hottest 100 or ARIA’s, and as you look back at names you may not have heard since you bought their debut album years back, ask yourself: what happened? What happened to Wolfmother, or Birds of Tokyo, or Jet? The cases may vary, but overall, it’s pretty simple: we outgrew them. Most of these bands are still making music (although the quality of said music compared to its popularity seems to generally correlate), but while one brilliant throwback rock record is easy to latch onto, if they don’t really have anything else interesting to offer (see: Wolfmother) or grow increasingly unstable as a unit (see: Wolfmother), it’s hard to keep caring, especially when some new group is always just around the corner to blow us away. And so, by their fourth or fifth record, a lot of these bands are making music to no one.
When Violent Soho were setting out to release Waco, the follow-up to their breakout hit Hungry Ghost, frontman Luke Boerdam addressed this, telling Rolling Stone Australia, “There are bands that do good records, but when they follow them up, that’s when they (prove if) they are sticking around or they’re pissing off, that’s all they had. I had that at the back of my mind as motivation, proving to people that we’re here to stay. There is more to this band than just Hungry Ghost.” Indeed, Waco succeeded at this, keeping the hype alive and establishing Violent Soho as Australia’s premier 90’s alt-rock revival group. However, for the group, who have unbelievably been a band for 16 years now and are on their fifth record, that hype may be running out. Sure, they’ve gained plenty of Triple J airplay for their new singles, just like Hungry Ghost and Waco. But no one is talking about this new record, to the point where I, a big fan of the band, didn’t even know that it had actually come out until two weeks after its release. Turns out I didn’t miss much; Everything is A-OK is a severe disappointment for the group and, while solid and unchallenging enough to be enjoyable first time around, it leaves absolutely nothing interesting or worthwhile.
It seems that Boerdam and co. have chosen to expand upon the more subdued style of tracks such as “No Shade,” and “OK Cathedral,”; however, they seriously overestimate our enjoyment for these kind of tunes, spamming them to us until we get a collection that severely lacks an interesting identity. Every track trudges along, riding on a mellow, chugging, bassy riff and a middling, midtempo drum beat, and for the most part extremely lacking anything noteworthy, musically or lyrically. So while Hungry Ghost and Waco had a much more consistent sense of energy and the occasional fist-pumping thrasher like “Gold Coast,” or “Eightfold,” to contrast with the more restrained tunes, Everything is A-OK severely lacks in energy and bite, and however personal and subtle Boerdam’s lyrics get, you always get the sense that you’re listening to something incredibly impersonal and hollow.
The experience can be well-summarized from the contemplation, or lack of, after completing the record, as you realize that over its 10 tracks, not a single riff is particularly memorable, not a single line is particularly quotable, not a single song stands out to the point where you just have to hear it again. It’s not incompetent, but merely unchallenging and unremarkable in every way; it comes and goes leaving basically no impression.
To be fair, it isn’t completely hopeless, with a number of solid tunes that carry a strand of an interesting idea: “Slow Down Sonic,” rides a decent gentle-guitar hook and works as a pleasant, dreamlike ballad-with-a-beat reminiscent of the group’s early downtempo numbers while at the same time sounding like nothing the band has penned before. “Sleep Year,” semi-successfully emulates the formula set by previous openers “Dope Calypso,” and “How to Taste,” melding a gentle verse that leaves plenty of space for Boerdam’s vague spoken-word poetry with a chorus highly reminiscent of the final moments of “Covered in Chrome.” And while “Canada,” the track with the heaviest guitar sound on the record, would seem understated on Waco or Hungry Ghost, it manages to borrow some sensibilities from the latter to deliver a semi-memorable hook, ending up as one of the more re-listenable tracks on the album.
However, the most disappointing aspect of Everything is A-OK is that at no point does Soho stop gently strumming and just simply rock out; there’s no real passion here, just a rock band putting together a few more tunes. The record simply fails to capture the sense of fun and camaraderie that defined early Soho; the feeling that came from four Brisbane lads letting loose and cranking out some punk tunes, the feeling that made us fall in love with these guys and their music; on Everything is A-OK, Violent Soho are simply on autopilot. Which hasn’t been terrible for the band; they’ve got a second No.1 album in Aus and a handful of tunes to dominate Triple J’s playlist for the next few months. But you can feel their relevancy starting to fade. There’s a reason I didn’t remember any of the singles when they aired on Triple J; they didn’t vaguely resemble the anthems that “Covered in Chrome,” or “Like Soda,” were. No one is going to jam to “Vacation Forever,” or “A-OK,” in the same way, and I don’t expect to see any of these tunes reach the same heights on the Triple J Hottest 100 that their previous songs have. No one is talking about Violent Soho anymore, and that’s sad.
It seems that Soho’s intentions were to create a record reflective of our times; something a little more somber, a little more reflective. But, honestly, in these difficult times, I would take the old, energy-filled, passionate Soho over this. I have no doubt that there is more to these guys than just Hungry Ghost, but if it sounds like this, then I don’t know if it’s worth it to stick around.