Nostalgia in pursuit of a party is no vice if you're the life of the party. Not blessed or cursed with the urge to innovate, most of today's great guitar bands reconstruct earlier movements by refining old production values and putting the focus on lyrics and personality. The personae--gothic-blues curator with neuroses Jack White; hell-bent R&B disciple with Rob Tyner tendencies Lisa Kekaula; screaming Swedish maniac Pelle Almqvist--rub off on the sound enough to turn clichés into independent expressions and justify the use of Buzzcocks Riff Variations #512-526. And there you go: 197X sounds like 2005, and the new rock greats are separated from the cheap retro knockoffs.
Now that I've hinted at exactly what's missing from and wrong with the Dead 60s, let's be fair: Two years is a ways to go without a Rancid album, and the Dead 60s are a fair enough approximation of what makes decent reggae-punk tick. Buzz single and album opener "Riot Radio" nails the two-tone skank dead-on, putting so much momentum in its bass-dominated backbeat that it nearly reaches the house-caliber levels of 4/4 precision that most Factory reject nu-wave pretenders lack. It generates enough goodwill to make the album's diminishing returns (the sleepy, half-formed "Nowhere;" King Tubby-with-head-trauma dub "Control This;" sub-Ferdinand lazy bull "Loaded Gun") seem nearly excusable. But the excuses run out by the time the album nears its end, concluding one of the longest half-hours in pop this year: Without a compelling center, the naked weariness of the band's Xerox-of-a-mimeograph pub-ska--hardly rude, just timidly uncouth--cries out for a more riveting presence than Matt McManamon. The lead singer is apathetic enough to attempt scowling "no future," that most infamous of punk phrases, in "New Town Disaster" and make it sound like an aside; creatively listless enough to pen "The Last Resort," nicking title and concept from "Hotel California" and dumbing it down something fierce ("The industry's dead, packed up and gone/It's nobody's home, they left their lights turned on"); flat-voiced enough that, Liverpool hometown notwithstanding, he sounds like an American pretending to be British. The guy could make any decade sound dead.
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