You can always recognize the bands that were bred on a strict diet of their parents’ vinyl. In 2009, when The Heavy released their breakout record House That Dirt Built, it was apparent that they were one of those bands. Rooted firmly in ‘60s and ‘70s R&B, the album earned the band a place in the recent wave of neo-soul ushered in by Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. It was a complex kaleidoscope of funk, soul and gritty blues, served over hip-hop influenced modern production, and it was hailed as a successful throwback to the golden age of soul. Their third effort, The Glorious Dead (released Aug. 21) is yet another revival record, but this time The Heavy bites off far more than it can chew.
Luckily for us, the band sticks to its forte for at least a few tracks. The velvety smooth cuts “Be Mine” and “Blood Dirt Love Stop” are reminiscent of the seductive vocals of Curtis Mayfield, and the arrangement of the swaggering “Big Bad Wolf” makes its shoddy lyricism forgivable, even humorous. “Don’t Say Nothing,” although contrived, has a solid horn-driven groove, and even though the verse of “Curse Me Good” sounds forced, the chorus accounts for it and is convincingly vintage.
Otherwise, many parts of The Glorious Dead come across as inglorious attempts to reach out to the audience that thought their last album was a little too weird. The choruses are blown up, the vocals are almost intolerably simplistic, and the whole mood leaves something to be desired. The Heavy is looking way too hard for a single, and they aren’t going to find it in melodramatic rock.
Take, for example, the opening track “Can’t Play Dead,” which finds the band channeling bombastic metal (think Metallica, only less interesting) and setting a creepy mood with B-movie horror effects and not-so-clever lyrics about an undead romance. It’s more of a Halloween parody song than anything else. The de facto single “What Makes A Good Man?” has similar issues — along with shallow lyricism, boring production and flagrant misplacement of a Gospel choir.
And let’s not forget all the other low points of the record, including but not limited to the indiscriminate Stooges-meet-Marvin Gaye genre mashing of “Just My Luck,” the Tom Waits caricature on “The Lonesome Road,” and “Same Ol,” which brings to mind all the worst things that came out of glam rock. The novelty of all these nostalgic allusions wears off fairly quickly.
The problem isn’t the fact that The Heavy won’t stay out of their dads’ record collections, it’s that they can’t keep the needle on any one album for long enough. The Heavy suffer from the short attention span of the digital age and jump from one genre to another without giving much thought to transition. And although they know how to put on a good show, they should figure out who they want to be before they throw together another album of muddled influences.