You’ll have to bear with me, because this next sentence isn’t exactly appealing.The Samuel Jackson Five are a mostly-instrumental prog-rock five-piece, with a penchant for guitars, trumpets and questionable synthesizers; their eponymous album is a glorious tribute to many-instrumented, unsubtle lobby music, featuring an album cover that looks straight out of a low grade sci-fi book with a name like “Super Space Lasers And Other Planets With Said Lasers All Shooting At Each Other”. Still with me? Good! Because it’s still worth listening to.
Instrumental prog-rock is normally made for the instrumental prog-rock fan. It is among one of the most inaccessible genres in mainstream music: 10 minute long songs, annoying concoctions of guitar pedals and a culture of black graphic t-shirts with dragons on them. The Samuel Jackson Five manage to avoid, for the most part, these failings – only one song crosses the 6 minute mark – and this album could potentially make it onto your iPod (or at least some songs could), even if you, like me, reader, are someone who treats discussions on Pink Floyd as a good time to check their e-mails.
You see, if you were a vaguely musical awkward teenager, you may think you have heard this before. This album is exactly what bands of 14 year olds who are too embarrassed to do any vocals think their instrumental voyages sound like. The guitar work is good but not pretentious and the songs rarely get boring – but the fact that it would be easy to describe The Samuel Jackson Five as having “sweeping soundscapes” or that I could say they were “thorough” is something that they never quite overcome. ‘A Perennial Candidate’ descends into an inspirational-pan-shots-of-thousands-of-kids-wearing-KONY-2012-T-shirts fist-pumping tragedy, and ‘What Floats Her Boat’ is basically a recorded version of what every guitarist first does having bought a space echo pedal. The Samuel Jackson Five haven’t managed to do the impossible and make instrumental music suddenly appealing to a short attention span like mine – their four minute instrumental songs still lack the personality and individuality that adding vocals brings.
The awkward truth about these self confessed “instrumental rock specialists” is that the best songs aren’t the instrumental ones; the short sharp ones with the desperate vocals (‘Electric Crayons’, ‘Ten Crept In’) are the reason to get this album, tracks whose technicality is somewhat reduced in favour of more brutish stuff – they’re fast, have a standard structure and would fit onto any indie/lad crossover’s “GYM PLAYLIST”. These songs definitely have mass appeal but you can sort of feel the regret that the band included them on the album: they’re out of place.
And, I suppose that that is one of the faults of this album – that there isn’t the continuity that you’d normally expect. You can go from one song being suitable for an NME compilation CD to the next track being the one which that dickhead – who feels music much deeper than you and wants you to know it – says is their favourite track. They’d say “Oh, it’s something in the silence” or “the endless repetition has political and metapolitical subtexts” when in reality we’re all thinking “Shit, that one that sounds like Blink 182 made me briefly feel alive”.