There were only two debut albums that made my Best of 2007 list, but both of them placed very high. The Kooks‘ Inside In/Inside Out was my 2nd best album for that year, while Deer Tick’s War Elephant took the 3rd spot. The reason I bring this up is that breaking onto the scene with a knockout album can often be a blessing and a curse for a new band. With every subsequent release, critics will continue to use that stellar introduction disc as a barometer of sorts – at least until they outdo themselves. While some never do, I have faith that both The Kooks and Deer Tick will someday surpass the success of their first albums – though neither quite have with their second.
Leading up to the release of The Kooks’ follow-up, I anticipated that they may have a tough time matching the effect of their debut. Konk, alone, from the British rockers didn’t even come close to the greatness that was Inside In. If it hadn’t been for the inclusion of the Rak Bonus Disc, I may have completely forgotten about the album, but this set of extra songs served as a little precursor to what the band has in store in the future – and I’m excited for it. Check out an old post on that bonus disc here.
I didn’t have any of the same reservations before Born On Flag Day dropped (today, officially). I never doubted that John McCauley, now with a tight-knit band behind him, would pull off another superb set and blow the doors open. I can’t say that Deer Tick has done exactly that, but first, let’s explore this new wax.
As Far as making an entrance goes, ‘Easy‘ does its job and grabs your attention. Loud, driving, angry… all while still very much under control. The biting lyrics and la bamba-esque riff in the chorus make the song stay with you. In fact, this track was the only pre-release preview we got, so I’ve been spinning for about a month and find myself singing it all the time. But by the time the album hit my doorstep, the track was old-news and this makes for slightly less excitement when it happens now. The same can be said for some of the other tracks. ‘Little White Lies‘ and ‘The Ghost’ were displayed at their Daytrotter Session as well as a live show I have. About the same time I picked up War Elephant, I found an early recording of ‘Hell On Earth.’ While all of these songs were vastly improved in the studio for this record (The Ghost, especially with the addition of a whining harmonica), much of the freshness has been used up.
But that, folks, is where my disappointment ends. The ‘new’ tracks are just about all I could have asked for. Well-written, well-structured laments full of bare-faced emotion and building tempos. One of the most impressive aspects of War Elephant was the wide range of influence present in the song styling. Born On Flag Day lengthens this range with hints of John Prine (‘Song About A Man’), Chuck Berry (‘Straight Into A Storm’), and even some classic 50’s-style melodies and vocals (‘Stung’).
A fresh voice enters the mix on ‘Friday XIII’ when Liz Isenberg, another Providence native, joins John in a duet she co-wrote. She goes from simple harmony addition to taking on a verse herself, and they finish with some fast paced call-and-answer vocals.
The album is capped of with a live sing-along (hidden track) of the classic bar-closer ‘Goodnight Irene’ sure to give new Deer Tick fans a glimpse into the Deer Tick live experience and drink-loving demeanor.
My favorite line on the disc comes in the aforementioned ‘The Ghost’ as an irrelevant Surgeon General’s warning doesn’t phase John, simply for the fact that he is neither pregnant, nor a woman:
“There’s a label on the bottle that I read
But it don’t have a thing to do with me
I ain’t carrying no child; it’s only dreams I got inside
And tonight they’re getting drunk with me”
All that said, I can’t put this new one above Deer Tick’s debut. As is often the case, you can never duplicate your first experience with a new band, so maybe I’m just spoiled. Thanks guys.
Song About A Man
Straight Into A Storm
Pick up Born On Flag Day today.
For a limited time, grab a download of War Elephant for $5 at Amazon.