Sunday, April 9, 2000
For me, Newfoundland's The Punters seemed to hold the most promise of any current East Coast group or artist. Their reckless energy, spunky attitude and taut blend of punk, folk and pop left them poised for the kind of major breakthrough we've been waiting for in the wake of the Rankins' breakup.
Unfortunately, The Punters' long-awaited new album, Will You Wait (Loggerhead), is not that breakthrough. While it's no disaster, it's an overly safe and calculated album that sees the band abandoning much of its traditional Celtic roots-rock in favour of a John Mellencamp-ish sound.
The opening track sets the tone for much of the CD. Rise With The Sun goes along at a pleasant mid-tempo, driven by a Bad Company-ish guitar track.
Larry Foley's plaintive vocal picks the song up a bit, but the pace soon flags. Worse, Patrick Moran's fiddle is deliberately buried in the mix. Instead of evoking cool alt-country ensembles like Wilco, the Jayhawks or Son Volt, The Punters end up sounding like an arena-rock dinosaur.
Strange, because the songs on Will You Wait fall into the category of not bad to pretty good. Foley is a strong songwriter with a knack for catchy choruses and soaring melodies. None of his songs on the album, however, catch fire.
Whether it's the restrained arrangements or the unsympathetic production, the music on the album just stays flat.
A goin'-through-the-motions cover of The Kinks' last great hit, Come Dancing, sums up the direction taken on Will You Wait. A gushing slide guitar overwhelms the fiddle, and the marvellous Tex-Mex horns of the Kinks' original are nowhere to be found. The band plods through the song like it's warming up for something bigger and more important. The version adds nothing to the original and simply takes up space on the album.
When the band indulges its traditional roots on P is for Paddy and Johnny Burke's Never Been There Before, those old Punters sparks begin to fly. Both tunes rock along with a sense of unrestrained fun - perfect examples of just what the band is capable of.
It may be too easy to blame producers Gary Moffet and Jeff Nystrom for the band's malaise. By shying away from its own tradition, and pursuing pop over pep, the band gets trapped in a bland cul-de-sac. The Punters always struck me as the wilder, unpolished younger brothers of Great Big Sea - not Glass Tiger's Newfoundland cousins.
Oh well, there's a few raucous moments on Will You Wait. And still, a lot of promise.
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