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Rival Schools – Pedals

April 7, 2011

Rival Schools hold a special place in my heart – their debut album United by Fate was a drive-time favourite in my younger and only slightly stupider days, getting played at full volume along with some other choice cuts (Hell is for Heroes’s Neon Handshake being the king of that particular hill) whenever I needed an extra shot of adrenaline to soundtrack my reckless driving. This could segue nicely into track 5 of their latest album, ‘Racing to Red Lights’, but I’ll leave it for later.

Used for Glue

When I first heard Rival Schools it was their single ‘Used for Glue’ on MTV2 (remember that? when MTV actually seemed interested in showcasing quality new music, rather than the shit they shovel out now…) and I though “yeah, not bad” but it never really caught my attention long enough to stop listening to Deftones. A friend or two would mention them here and there, and they would come up at parties and all the time I would like what I heard, but somehow never felt the urge to get the album. When I did get it, via a huge influx of music during one of those hard-drive raids that invariably leave you utterly bewildered with far too much music to digest, it was lost in a sea of (mainly) crap (what on earth were my friends listening to?!).

However, thanks to that genius “invention” of shuffle, my iTunes would serve me up a Rival Schools track every now and then. And just like before, my reaction would always be positive, and yet I wouldn’t buckle down and listen to the album the whole way through. This super-slow process carried on for literally years, until one day I was listening to one of the many great songs off the album and I thought I had better listen to this damn thing properly. And my word, was I finally turned. From that day, United by Fate entered the upper echelons of my brain under “heavy”. By this point, however, there wasn’t much left in there – bands like… um, I don’t even want to mention them I’m so embarrassed, but suffice to say I had grown out of the heavier music I had previously loved (in fact I seem to recall me saying that the day I stopped listening to metal I would become a boring old person, and I would never let it happen…). But, somehow, Rival Schools seemed immune to this phenomenon. In fact, they seemed to genuinely get better with age, bereft of the saturation point that comes with most albums that renders them nigh-on impossible to listen to once reached. United by Fate is by far and away the biggest grower of an album I’ve ever set ears on.

So, it was with great sadness that I realised, so late on, that they were no more. Another potentially great band, gone. I never found out why. It would be years till I heard the rumours that they might be getting back together. It took a long, long time for those early rumours to turn into the hard evidence I have in my possession today, but boy was it worth the wait. I bought the single ‘Shot After Shot’ on iTunes the day it came out, and my juices were flowing instantly – the relentless power chords chugging away made me think of the 90’s, but not in a bad way. Rival Schools always had the same basic template as so many of their peers, but something made them rise above the crowd – I can’t quite put my finger on it, though I have a feeling the singer has a lot to do with it. Schreifels vocals are not the most original in their delivery (whiskey/cigarette/some other rock’n’roll cliche-ravaged) or dexterous in their lyrical content, but they are still great in context of the band. In fact, his voice was the thing that grew on me the most about the band over time – it took me a long while to appreciate just how good his voice sounded. Even though from a distance you might confuse him with a hundred others of his ilk, it’s about a big a disservice as calling the waiter at your local Chinese Jackie Chan (Jackie Chan is from Hong Kong? Whatever, they are all the same). He can put a lot of emotion and aggression into his vocal chords, riding them at seemingly breaking point for the majority of the songs, without ever seeming contrived or silly like a metal roar obviously can – this is how a rock singer should sound! And his lyrics, while never engaging me particularly, never took me out of the experience either, which is high praise coming from me.

Shot After Shot

Album openers seem to be something of a Forté for Rival Schools, with ‘Wring it Out’ carrying on where ‘Travel by Telephone’ left off in 2001 (yes, it really was a decade ago – makes me feel old…). Possibly my favourite song off the album (for now at least) the track displays all that is good about the band – strong, deceptively simple guitar work at it’s best – small touches like the pre-chorus finger picking overlay being one of many in the album. The album also features numerous mini-solos, brimming with energy without needed to resort to wanking. The bass plays the same game of simple and effective, keeping the momentum going forcefully. I must say I’ve never thought too much about their drummer, but now I’m concentrating I realise they are all in on the act. KISS, Apple style. I can compare it to one of my favourite computer game developers, Blizzard – they have never been pioneers in any real sense, instead taking the best bits of every other game in a genre and distilling it into an easily digestible formula, with insane amounts of polish. I’ll call it the Mr. Sheen factor – honing a sound, getting the basics so right, it’s something that a lot of bands aspire to but very few attain. I think these boys have it in spades.

I’m currently listening to ‘Racing to Red Lights’, a slightly slower track, with some sweet chord changes. In another bands hands, this could easily turn into a poor Coldplay song, but there’s enough interest from the interplay between guitars and bass to keep things fresh. I really do like the guitar work in Rival Schools, the distortion and chugging power chords are always balanced out by the second guitarists intelligent lines.

I should take a leaf out of their book and keep this short and sweet. This is a great rock album in a world with very few great rock acts (from my few listens of The Strokes’s new album it seems like they too are doing their bit to change that). If this album grows on me at the same rate as their predecessor then this is going to be one hell of an album, though I am happy enough appreciating it in it’s current form. I loved their debut, and after a decade their follow up is just as good. Isn’t that all a fan can ask for? How about seeing them live – they have two dates in london soon, one of them sold out. If you want to join me I’ll be seeing them on the 19th April.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mDilsh permalink
    April 10, 2011 5:24 pm

    There’s certainly something to be said for bands that become more than the sum of their parts by adhering to a tried and tested formula. Too few bands are given critical recognition for this humility despite the fact they obviously provide their fans with listen after listen of enjoyment. Yet, I have to question the relevance of bands like Rival Schools (or even The Strokes for that matter). I don’t think rock, as a genre, has ever been static, and although it’s tempting to see artists such as this as the last bastion of a dying breed, I think they are more like sentimental relics of a now irrelevant past.
    I don’t doubt the quality of this album, I just don’t wish to engage with music purely for old time’s sake, because art is always progressive and the minute you start thinking like that, you’ll get left behind; sitting in your armchair wondering what happened to the world.

  2. j-diz permalink
    April 10, 2011 7:46 pm

    I see where you are coming from, but riddle me this: who are the rock bands that make Rival Schools seem out-dated? If rock is not static, what is / are it’s current forms (the ones worth listening to)? For me rock doesn’t have many champions right now.

    “irrelevant past” is strong rhetoric (me likee) but then what do you say about someone like Mayer Hawthorne? Why do some forms of music get celebrated for aping the past yet others get stick for the same thing?

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