It was a rather bleak winter, wasn’t it, especially up there in Scotland? But cold enough to justify a another promising indie rock band launching themselves into stadium rock? It’s hard to remember a time when U2 played concert halls; in fact, a collective amnesia tells us they arrived fully-formed on Zoo TV circa 1992, big screens and Bono prancing around like King Kong. Even earlier, Pink Floyd retreated to stadia and asked us to share their collective melancholia and nihilism “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way …”, which we were happy to do, of course, as the world entered the early stages of its postmodern meltdown. Yes, love it or hate it, stadium rock was right on the money, literally. But there’s a dangerous Scottish template, of course, Simple Minds were legendary at serving up goof-rock for the masses, and inevitably bands like Travis, Snow Patrol and Idlewild all headed for the stratosphere once their influence and popularity took off. But on their latest album The Winter That Was, Dundee band The Hazey Janes have gone from sounding like a promising Teenage Fanclub on 2006′s Hotel Radio to full-blown AOR-rock, Scotland’s answer to Reo Speedwagon, no less.
The album’s intro ‘Cascade River Gardens’ sounds like the keyboard sequencers on The Who’s ‘Won”t Get Fooled Again’, but we are fooled again, of course, as ‘Carmelite’ crashes in like Dave Lee Roth and Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, all air guitars and big hair bands of the 80s with their COD lyrics. Incidentally, here’s a few:
“A shadow then of 43 it wouldn’t mark the moon / From the basement of the backstreet folding letters on your room / His father’s ghosts around the scene to breath us all so clean / So fuck this place it’s all distinct too wild with everything / A picture of the system which is Paris in the spring / Holding up for Ann-Sue’s birth believes in anything / She’s an echo in my heart”
Yeah! Rock On! And they’re not just ‘having a laff’ either, collecting myself together after the initial shock, the album beds down into bland but fairly harmless soft rock, a timely reminder (and warning, perhaps?) of what can happen to promising bands who don’t take care: Hothouse Flowers RIP. So ‘Girl In The Night’ is passable AOR; the last I heard, Styx, Reo Speedwagon and Journey were all playing on a cruise ship and arranging the deck chairs together … ‘Aspen’ has another generic instantly forgettable riff, ‘You Only Stand To Lose If I Stay’ sounds like an attempt to connect with the band’s celtic roots but fails to really ignite, and again ‘Southern Lawns’ sounds devoid of passion. Try as I might, I can’t like this album but I can’t bring myself to hate it either, so damned by feint praise it’ll have to be. In ‘The Darkness Ends’ we have possibly the album’s one saving grace, a track that wisely slips down a country lane, winding up with a merry jig that signals the end of this cold winter, but not the album unfortunately. ‘Paperhearts’ and ‘Everything Starts Again’ are still trying to convince us that “For those about to rock … we salute you!”
On The Winter That Was, it’s hard to tell which part of the market ‘The Janes’ (as I’m sure they’ve never been known) are trying to corner. There’s nothing really offensive here, but maybe that’s part of the problem: when COD-rock becomes COMP(-etent) rock, surely the torchlight which ignited the whole thing in the first place has gone out? We can’t even let our hair down and have a good laugh at the whole thing, Spinal Tap style. Ultimately, this is an album lacking in spirit from a band who seem to have lost their way musically, and that’s why it’s so disheartening. The time’s probably right for an AOR-rock revival, and on the strength of this album The Hazey Janes wouldn’t sound out of place supporting one of their American cohorts in a stadium somewhere (“Hazey who …?”), though they may be about to repeat the mistake Oasis made touring America with the Black Crowes in the Tour Of Brotherly Love in 2001, and we know what happened to them now, don’t we?