As buzz-generating first singles go, the Subways’ “Rock & Roll Queen” was pretty tepid. Sure, it got a spot on the soundtrack for The OC (what hasn’t?) and a “Single of the Month” promotion on iTunes, but its overbearing alterna-rawk production and insipid lyrics carried the suspicious whiff of industry hype rather than genuine word-of-mouth acclaim. For this listener, at least, the question was not “where did these guys come from?” but “who the hell actually listens to this?” – hardly the response, one imagines, that these British teens’ handlers were hoping for. But there it was nevertheless, another half-assed attempt by a clueless major label to cash in on a genre (that’s 2002-style “New Rock”) the kids don’t even like anymore. Shiny and new and basking in its own mediocrity.
But I’m an optimist, and so when the Subways’ debut full-length hit US shores this week, I approached it with an open mind. It wouldn’t be the first time a decent album was saddled with a fair-to-middling lead single, after all; there were even some decent reviews cropping up, Stylus Magazine in particular praising Young for Eternity as an Anglo kissing cousin to Detroit rock, “the album the Von Bondies should have made to follow up Pawn Shoppe Heart, and the album the White Stripes should make period.” Well, now that I’ve heard the record in its entirety, I have two conclusions to make: that the Subways are every bit as so-so as “Rock & Roll Queen” suggested, and that the Stylus writing staff has never, ever set foot in Detroit.
For that matter, neither have the Subways. Their music would fit in on alternative playlists with “Fell in Love with a Girl,” for sure (or, more accurately, with post-’02 fallout acts like Jet), but what it lacks is anything like the passion that made us think the Stripes were saving rock’n'roll in the first place. Instead of the Stooges and the Five – let alone Marlene Dietrich, Blind Willie McTell, Cole Porter or the rest of Jack White’s long list of esoteric influences – the Subways draw inspiration from the Vines and Oasis. More to the point, they’re worse than both of those bands.
Singer Billy Lunn might be a dead ringer for Liam Gallagher on opening track “I Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say” and the title track might sound almost identical to the Vines’ “Get Free,” but that doesn’t change the fact that Gallagher had personality and “Get Free” was actually catchy. Young for Eternity has everything but personality and catchiness – it’s faceless, forgettable, insignificant. Yeah, it sounds all right … but can you really imagine deciding to listen to something like “Mary” when you could be hearing the much more credible Britpop acts the Subways are trying to ape?
It’s tempting to chalk the lameness of this album up to youth – after all, the members of the Subways were just teenagers when they were discovered at the Glastonbury Festival two years ago. But the thing about Detroit, kids, is we’ve got more than enough bands in their late teens and early twenties who could blow these wannabes out of the fucking water. They’re playing in clubs around town every night, for six or seven dollars a ticket. And when you’ve got value like that at your fingertips, then I ask you: who needs the Subways?
Reviewed by Zach Hoskins
This review is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.