Rock music comes in so many varieties these days. The word 'rock,' for many people, automatically conjures visions of hedonism, of sex and drugs and violence, and won't somebody think of the children? But there's more in the spectrum than that – rock, as evidenced time and again, can be quite mellow.
If mellow's your thing, you could do worse than to take a listen or two to Casino Twilight Dogs, the third album (and second American release) from Australian rock band Youth Group. I know they come O.C.-approved (Their cover of Alphaville's "Forever Young," included here, became a #1 single in Australia based on its appearance during an episode of that late, unmissed show.), but don't hold that against them – they're good, honest.
Youth Group's metier, at first blush, is lush mid-tempo rock with pop inflections (a genre on which I'm not usually keen); so goes the first half of Casino Twilight Dogs. Wayne Connolly's production is crisp (check the surprising crack of the drum line on "Under the Underpass") and the hooks are clear and clean. It's pleasant without being bland, catchy without being inane – in short, the kind of music that seemingly exists just to get stuck in your head; in particular, I've found myself at work humming the chorus to opening track "On a String" more than once. It's nice, but it's been done.
The album's second half, though, is what gives Casino Twilight Dogs its kick. The moment the album really started to hum for me was midway through "Daisychains," when what had been a mild, slightly downcast ballad unexpectedly opens up into something far more grandiose. It's a sign that they aspire to more interesting things, and it can't help but color what's come before and what follows in a different shade. The highlight is the quietly apocalyptic "The Destruction of Laurel Canyon," which carries with it a whiff of The Pernice Brothers in its dark jangle.
If there's a weak point to Youth Group, it's in their lyrics. The lyrics on this album are of a literary bent, which is all well and good. But for every sharply sardonic turn of phrase ("Did you find what you were looking for? Oh, I just don't care anymore / It's a free world, go out and be an artist," from "Sorry") or evocative image ("The gutters become torrents and run down the graceful streets / Like a revolutionary force stamping its foamy feet," from "The Destruction of Laurel Canyon"), there's a line that comes off as clunky or overthought. Oddly enough, the clumsiest line pops up in "Daisychains," a song I otherwise dig: "I'm more General Haig than Napoleon Bonaparte."
Still, it's better to overreach than resort to the same pop-rock lyrical cliches that currently swamp modern radio. (Lord knows we don't need more deep thinkers like Nickelback or Staind.) A little overbaked wordplay is understandable as symptomatic of Youth Group's ambition. In retrospect, it seems obvious why the producers of The O.C. would want to use Youth Group – Casino Twilight Dogs fairly screams "mood music." It's smart, sweet mellow rock. Give it time and it'll grow on you.