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The Heroic Enthusiasts - The Heroic Enthusiasts

by Jon Burke Rating:4 Release Date:2017-10-20
The Heroic Enthusiasts
The Heroic Enthusiasts

The eponymous album by Rochester’s The Heroic Enthusiasts offers a frustrating listening experience. Clearly a lot of care was put into this record–the sound is lush, the instrumentation carefully layered and, while reverent to a specific sound (80s New Wave/Dream Pop), there is no overt thievery—the Heroic Enthusiasts make their own distinct music. Unfortunately, said music is not particularly gripping or interesting and, what’s worse, the band comes across as so self-serious they seem unable to parse the line between drama and melodrama. Part of what made The Cure so great was Robert Smith’s dark humor and self-awareness about his own theatricality. Sadly, the Heroic Enthusiasts seem to lack the capacity for self-awareness and the result is a band whose Facebook bio literally closes with the line: “…they [Heroic Enthusiasts] aim for the sweet spot where brooding and passion become indistinguishable.”

Truth be told, the real problem with The Heroic Enthusiasts can be laid, almost entirely, at the feet of the band’s lead singer and lyricist, James Tabbi. Between his overwrought vocals, and his 8th grade poetry class lyrics, Tabbi draws attention away from the interesting things going on musically with the rest of the band. Though his song titles are lovingly evocative of the band’s musical progenitors the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. For example, as a title, “When The Deal Is Done” sounds like the best Echo & The Bunnymen song you’ve never heard. But when you play the track, the whirling dream pop you’d expect gives way to a highly affected:

“I want you/I need you/until you are gone/Until you go away/until the deal is done/Until the money flows/when the book is closed/On that dayyyyy…”

The insipid rhymes never seem to end. Imagine Dr. Seuss on Thorazine and you’ll get an idea of the sheer inanity of it all. What’s worse, every song on the record offers up this same brand of low-rent poetry. Remember your friend in high school who thought Jim Morrison’s poetry was “like, really deep, bro”? Well, he grew up and wrote: “We stare into the news we're fed/We wait for songs yet to be sung/Numb to the suffering/Of our one humanity” More platitudes than the poster rack in a head shop.

This isn’t to say everything is bad on The Heroic Enthusiasts but instead that the good simply gets overshadowed by the bad’s need to take center stage. The Enthusiasts have a tight rhythm section and a bass player with real range. One gets the impression the band is itching to really rock but hold back due to Tabbi’s limited vocal and dynamic range. On a track like “Summer Serenade” the band builds some serious tension by the song’s nearly-thunderous conclusion—tension that is never released because Tabbi can’t growl or scream or emote in an edgy way. Imagine the Chameleons UK trying to play a plugged-in electric set with Mark Burgess singing as if the band were playing an unplugged, acoustic jam instead. On “Dunes,” the album’s best track, the band finds a really nice galloping groove and Tabbi’s vocals and minimalistic lyrics actually work well to create a rather joyous little pop tune.

To remedy this situation I’d suggest Tabbi focus on his guitar work, relinquish vocal duties to someone with more range and let The Enthusiasts break-free. There is too much potential here for ego to stand in the way of growth. The Heroic Enthusiasts have the potential to join the ranks of Interpol, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand—putting a new twist on an old sound. As of now, they sound more like the band your middle aged boss formed after his divorce, whose set at the local coffee shop everyone in the office is obliged to attend.

Comments (2)

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There are some epic lines in this review, Jon. The paragraph with the quips about Dr. Seuss and Jim Morrison is funny as hell.

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Thanks, Steve! I was worried it was too harsh... Then I saw the video they posted on fb for their new york song. Ugh.

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