It would be easy to dismiss Tribes out of hand. There’s something easy to dislike about four lads who still hang around Camden beyond the age of 14, and they don’t do themselves any favours by dressing like Razorlight just before they decided leather tassels and cowboy hats were “in”. Also, occupying the middle ground between rock and indie is about as enigmatic as a Feeder B-side. With indie-rock still recovering from the collateral damage caused by the existence of The Towers of London, have Tribes simply appeared too soon?
On the other hand, might not writing a band off for being excited about guitar rock and singalong choruses just be admitting that you hate music? We may not all like it, but the anthemic leanings of the ‘Mr Brightside’-s and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’-s of the world are, arguably, what guitars are made for, and it’s this passion – the passion of a fan-filled field – which Tribes strive for on their debut, Baby.
Baby’s anthemic stand-out tracks, ‘Sappho’ and ‘When My Day Comes’, play on this classic rock paradigm; powering along with mid-tempo acoustic guitars which add earthiness, while Marshall-powered guitars churn out waves of solo effects. These are classic festival tracks for sunny days spent toe-tapping, and afternoons of cider drinking. There is even their own flag-waving moment, the epic ‘Himalaya’, with its “woah oh oh-ohs” and Celtic guitar solo.
What’s striking about Baby is its familiar Britishness: understated and lacking the cocksure spandex of LA, or grunge’s “look at me I’m lonely and angry” attitude. Unfortunately, though, it is not really clever enough to be truly alternative. ‘Corner of an English Field’ illustrates this – its “Man in the street says the country’s unholy/Have you noticed the change in the weather lately it’s getting me down always staying inside” lyric could be Damon Albarn or Neil Hannon backed by Frank Turner in its safe, stiff-upper-lip detachment.
Unfortunately this is Baby’s flaw: it endeavours to be the voice of the common man from the pedestal of a stadium stage, yet completely misses the point of lighters-in-air singalongs, which should touch a nerve we never realised was there, the front man serving as best friend and oracle. Instead, lines such as “What use is god if you can’t see him, what use are friends if they don’t want in/Running around with my head in a spin/What use is god if you never win” are patronisingly chanted in the FM plod of ‘Nightdriving’, abandoning the listener in the tedium of couplets among the ever-present chorus chants.
In fact, it is not Tribes’ attitude or songwriting ability (which is decent), that make Baby a weak record, but rather the fact that it seems to feel ashamed of trying to be a rock record. Whereas a band like the Gaslight Anthem will speak from the working man’s heart, expecting nothing and happy with moderation, Tribes want to be big, now. They’ve read the great rock biographies, watched Live Aid, and decided that they need a loud epic gang-land chorus followed by a quiet bit in every song, but at the same time they don’t want us to know their secret so have hidden it behind a shamefaced cod-sincerity.
There’s nothing to discover on Baby. Even the ostensibly impressive ‘We Were Children’ is a just a naff Pixies parody with a dad rock bridge before – guess what! – a chanting chorus. By the time ‘Bad Apple’ closes the album, there’s an urge to listen to some Nine Black Alps or early Manic Street Preachers, two bands who blatantly ripped off an American rock, yet still managed to bathe it in integrity and style.
Baby is a record for swaggering teens looking for something “rocking” after a day spent worshipping the Stone Roses. It’s not a record for the more considered music fan. But with the NME tour bagged they may yet get the credibility they don’t quite deserve.