(Kill Rock Stars)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
What seemed to be a mostly inspired one-off — when ex-R.E.M.-er Peter Buck, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and all-around Seattle utility guy Scott McCaughey combined their talents for 2017’s Filthy Friends’ Invitation — seems to have become a more permanent unit. Perhaps that wasn’t such a great idea.
This follow-up keeps the same basic lineup although Linda Pitmon replaces drummer Bill Rieflin, who remains behind the board as a co-producer. Buck and Tucker get co-credits for the songs, but Emerald Valley could have been a Tucker solo album since she is responsible for the politically pointed lyrics. Her voice, similar at times to Patti Smith’s, is out front in the mix. Buck’s guitar occasionally reverts back to the early R.E.M. days of ringing chords that fall between the Byrds, Tom Petty and the Velvet Underground.
But something is missing.
These indie rockers chug along with sufficient energy but few have memorable melodies or hooks. Tucker’s words, while well meaning, are often simplistic and preachy. The illegal immigrant situation discussed in “Angel” is ripe for a powerful song but lyrics like “Begging for mercy the children cry/ What monster holds their fate tonight” sung over a bland ballad isn’t it. Ditto for the following environmental “The Elliott,” where Tucker rages, “Don’t sell the forest, keep the public trust/ Enough, enough, the people must speak up” atop plodding, flat music.
The heavy-handed lyrics might have worked if the tunes were strong enough to support these virtuous concepts. Choruses and verses lumber along though, all played well enough but without much imagination. Even the punky “Last Chance County,” where Tucker lashes out about income inequality with spoken/shouted anger on lyrics like “I was on my way to the job I am stuck/ Where the men in the store run the rules like before” feels forced and stiff.
There are some decent musical ideas but they aren’t fleshed out enough to support Tucker’s often awkward proselytizing. On the Trump takedown “November Man,” she sings, “We don’t have no words/ We don’t have no song/ We don’t have no music,” which summarizes the frustrating issues surrounding this album more than it does the president.
The Filthy Friends came out of the gate strong with their previous release. They should have left well enough alone.