Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, ‘Any Port in a Storm’ — Album Review
On their second LP, Aussies Scott & Charlene’s Wedding have abandoned much of the garage-rock stomp of 2012’s ‘Para Vista Social Club’ in favor of a slower and cleaner brand of shambolic jangle-pop. While a move in this direction was not totally unexpected, given the similar bent of a handful of songs on that previous release, ‘Any Port In a Storm’ sounds surprisingly polished.
Gone are the slightly out-of-tune guitars, fuzzed-out bass and minimal guitar fills, and in their place are crisp, chiming rhythm guitar chords, restrained and melodic bass and soaring lead lines.
Unfortunately for Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, this cleaner sheen has opened up the band’s sound far too much, allowing listeners to notice two glaring flaws previously obscured by layers of noise: Frontman and band leader Craig Dermody is an uninspired vocalist, and his songwriting chops are not up to par with the artists he’s seeking to emulate.
It’s pretty clear from Dermody’s lackadaisical, conversational drawl that his musical heroes likely include Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Stephen Malkmus, but unlike those vocalists, Dermody has yet to find a way to let any personality shine through in his delivery, and his songs often meander with no discernible chorus and few (if any) hooks. Unlike Reed and Malkmus, who stretch out syllables and even whole words for sarcastic or playful emphasis, and Richman, whose monotone singing is simultaneously plaintive and joyful, Dermody sounds faint and disinterested, and unwilling to attempt a stab at melody or nuanced delivery. While this could be read as “attitude” or “cool indifference” by some, it mostly just feels as though Dermody’s not having a lot of fun here.
What ‘Any Port In a Storm’ does have going for it, however, are some memorable guitar lines, many reminiscent of jangly contemporaries Real Estate, Free Time or Beach Fossils. In fact, the lead guitar is the melodic glue that holds many of these songs together when the vocals fall short, from the major-scale-driven summer’s day plod of 'Lesbian Wife,' which smacks of New Zealand’s the Clean, to the pentatonic fills of more straightforward garage rockers 'Jackie Boy' and 'Downtown.'
There’s also breakup ballad 'Spring St.,' one of the few numbers in which Dermody’s delivery has any emotional resonance, although it’s predominantly the bittersweet organ and distant, reverb-laden slide guitar that does most of the heavy lifting.
Dermody’s lyrics are more memorable than his vocals; his apparently difficult transition from life in Melbourne to life in New York City is the basis of much of the album’s material, and while the lyrics aren’t overly poetic, they relate a tired but always poignant tale of the kind of lonely, detached and pocket-pinched existence most people trying to make it in NYC endure. ‘Fakin’ NYC’ is probably the strongest example, as Dermody observes, "But I figured in NYC I tell everyone I'm fine / I'd do anything for a coin / I got the wolves knocking on my door / Make it in New York City, I'll let you in on a secret of mine / I don't know what I'm doing any half the time."
For the most part, the most infectious and engaging songs on ‘Any Port In a Storm’ are the fast-paced rock n’ roll numbers like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Gammy Leg.’ Dermody’s deadpan delivery actually works well when the other instruments are this busy, and it’s hard not to nod along to songs that show an appreciation for classic garage rockers like the Sonics or current acts like the Black Lips or fellow Aussies the Twerps.
Scott and Charlene’s Wedding are clearly best suited to this sound, and 'Any Port in a Storm' would have been a stronger effort had they stuck to what they do best. As Dermody concedes in ‘Jackie Boy,’ "When you’ve got nothing left, you’ve still got rock n’ roll."