“Holding onto the past won’t make it repeat,” sings Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker on “Despierata,” the opening track on Filthy Friends’s Invitation. The politically charged single, released just weeks before the 2016 presidential election, obliquely yet unmistakably references those who pine for a past they see only through a sepia-toned lens, wishing they could reclaim a vision of their country that exists only in their imaginations. It also serves as a battle cry for Tucker and her band of co-conspirators—R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Fastbacks’s Kurt Bloch, the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey, and King Crimson’s Bill Rieflin—all of whom have substantial legacies but refuse to rest on their laurels or lean on their reputations for this super-group’s galvanizing debut.
McCaughey and Rieflin both played for R.E.M. in supporting roles over the years, so it’s no surprise that Invitation’s sound hews pretty close to that of Buck’s famous band at the peak of their powers. The songs here are propulsive and hooky, yet there are heavy doses of Sleater-Kinney’s signature sound too, with tracks like the careening rocker “The Arrival” offering blasts of punk energy. The album, nervy and immediate throughout, plays to its principals’ strengths without sounding like an exercise in nostalgia; it’s never buried in the murk of early R.E.M., yet it’s also clearer and cleaner than anything by Sleater-Kinney. Buck exhibits casual virtuosity, from the gentle Byrds-y jangle of “Faded Afternoon” to the slamming riffs of “The Arrival.” Tucker delivers clean, cheerful hooks on “Windmill,” but on rowdier songs like “Makers” she sneers, struts, and swaggers like Chrissie Hynde.
Invitation has the full-bodied roar of a rock n’ roll album: “Despierata” in particular becomes increasingly frayed and urgent as is gathers steam and momentum. But the songs on the album have the compact, satisfying melodicism of timeless pop. The political urgency of “Despierata” is conveyed through the relentlessness of its melody rather than any specific references to the current political moment. And “Faded Afternoon” is as direct and personal as “Despierata” is slyly political: “When you’re gone/It’s a dark, faded afternoon/When you’re gone/It’s a harsh, jaded kind of blues.” Both songs sound neat and tidy, while “Brother” is a raucous eruption of thrashing guitars, Tucker howling to be heard over the din.
The band saves their best trick and biggest curveball for last, as the soft-shoed pop of the jaunty title track ends things on a note of whimsy. And maybe that’s the best way to consider Filthy Friends: not as a group of rock elders out to prove themselves, but as pals giddy at the chance to make a ruckus together, and to get lost in the spirit of play. There isn’t a moment on Invitation where it sounds like they aren’t having fun, and their good time spills over into a dozen songs that are textured, tuneful, and immediate.