- by Amy Putman Rating:4 Release Date:2016-05-13 Label:
I wanted to write a really short, pithy review about Arbour Labour Union. You know, one of those one-word summations that seem incisive and confident and cool in a mean way: 'Brilliant'; 'Great'; 'Satisfatory'; 'Average'; 'Terrible'. etc, etc. My favourites, though, are the ones that use puns, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. 'Fantastic' to describe Lord of the Rings, for example, or 'Haunting', to describe The Sixth Sense. 'Ghastly' is amazing for basically anything with ghosts. 'Wonderful' can be judiciously used in the original meaning to describe anything far-fetched.
I won't tell you which word I was going to use. Instead, let me tell you a tale of Jim Morrison. You may have heard it but, since I'm not there, you can't really stop me. I mean, you could stop reading, but where would be the fun in that? Then you wouldn't even be able to properly hate this review.
So, Jim Morrison.
In 1967, Morrison was found shagging a girl in a bathroom stall. Nothing strange there, sure, but the person who found him was a police officer and promptly told Morrison to “beat it”. Morrison looked him in the eye and replied “eat it”. The cop responded by spraying mace all up in Jim's stupidly handsome face. The show was then delayed whilst Morrison's eyes stopped trying to burn out of his body. Later, halfway through the set, Morrison decided to recount the story to the audience, but with 1000% more swearing and loudly mocking the New Haven police. Needless to say, the police weren't chuffed and promptly arrested him.
Why am I telling you this? Am I going to make a valid and fair point about police brutality and disproportionate response to teenage-level rudeness? No! Am I going to say this album was like being maced in the face? No! Am I going to imply that the officer should have joined in, made it a three way, and that epic mace-fetishists dream is a metaphor for Arbour Labour Union? No! Am I going to ramble through a million tangents, confusingly, through the rest of this article? Probably! Is any of this story relevant at all? Yes, kinda!
Now, nobody can deny that Jim Morrison was a superstar. A rock god. A legend whose name implies a whole era and mindset, not just his own life. A sexy, hedonistic, quasi-spiritual motherfucker, with a face that looks like the progeny of Han Solo mating with James Dean. When he was at his peak, the music was astounding. His voice could be transcendental.
But, and this is a big butt of a but... He could also act like a spoiled tool. There were nights when his gigs took a back seat to his ego. Sometimes, the drugs or distraction sucked the soul from his voice. His alcoholism made him so unreliable he sometimes left half way through a song. The years before his death, though the experimentation in musical styles led to some of their best work, the rest of The Doors grew increasingly frustrated with Jim's self indulgence. I mean, I've got to say, if I'd been at that concert, I would have been pretty effin' peed off that I had to listen to a grown man whine about not getting to finish spaffing in a teenage groupie instead of hearing the music I loved.
Self indulgence is the main point I'm making, I guess. There comes a point where music that wants to be listened to, rather than being an intellectual endeavour, must be at least a little pleasurable. Even if that pleasure is perverse because of strong negative emotional components, or aesthetically challenging, like with math rock or frequent use of dissonance, it still has to inspire a feeling of interest, or joy, or art, or aural satisfaction, or something... that feels good, for whatever reason and in whatever way.
Arbour Labour Union are self indulgent to the point of tedium. Almost as pretentious as the band name. Several chunks of this album are great. The first few bars, for example, excited me beyond belief. I prepared myself for a truly great experience. Unfortunately, that faded quickly once it got going, as the dragging whine of over-thought, pretentious, would-be soul went on... and on... and on. I stopped being able to concentrate enough to work out even what they were trying to do in any detail. I spaced out so much my mind joined all the songs into one background drone, easily ignorable, so that I was surprised when the album ended.
The worst thing is, that Arbour Labour Union so very, very desperately want to be The Doors. It's the kind of pathetic yearning that makes me want to kick them. They have so much potential - some great instrumental moments and a voice that was born to wail ten times harder - that it's such a shame they haven't got an original sound. The singer is totally wasted on this copycat tripe, too. It makes him seem atonal, flat, out of tune and only able to manage a narrow range. I can hear that's not true - that he could do more - but his voice is just not suited to this dizzy crooning. It's too thin and imprecise, edgeless and stretched.
This is a band that self-defines as soul, but has strayed a really long way from all the great aspects of soul; the depth; the rhythm; the energy. This album really is more like pale, wish washy, lacklustre psyche rock. I find it hard to believe they have such a following.
In short, Arbour Labour Union have managed to combine the lacklustre singing of oh-God-I'm-so-out-of-it-oh-look-a-shiny-thing-gotta-go-stick-my-dick-in-it-am-I-on-stage-what-even-is-a-stage-I'm-sure-there-are-notes-somewhere-in-the-cosmos Jim Morrison, with his most self-indulgent rambling jam session; the worst bits of all soul rock/psych rock - TOGETHER AT LAST! - which might even be a kind of advertisement for it, actually, now I think about it. What's more, this is such an old fashioned, reductive, stale offering. It would have seemed a bit much back in the 90's grunge-adjacent revival of such things. I wouldn't bother, unless you have some sort of masochistic sweet spot for these things, or you want some background sound that won't distract. If you try to listen to this frankly horribly made album, it will be too effortful.
I'd like to have used the phrases 'United in Greatness'; 'A Labour of Love', 'Branching Out from the Norm', or 'Working it'.
I wish I could say they were 'Adoorable', or 'Treeriffic'.
I could definitely say they were 'Labored', or 'Bouring'.
In fairness, though, they aren't quite 'Arbhorrent'. Boom tch.
That one word, though? Soulless.
Reviews are all about giving an honest personal view. If you disagree, great! I'd love to hear your opinions and engage in meaningful discussion or debate.
But calling me deaf in a GIF? Super juvenile.