L.A. foursome the Bronx came from seemingly out of nowhere with their 2003 clamorous self-titled debut, a blitz of major media praise and slots on top-draw punk tours. They didn’t necessarily do the punk rock thing better than anyone else, but they played it so effortlessly that it was like no band had ever cranked out quick, bratty volleys of punk fury before. Their similarly self-titled follow-up tempered the bile slightly, with more carefully fleshed out arrangements and glossy major-label-financed production, and the band’s third eponymous record further distances them from the raw urgency of their early days.
Like many bands that race out of the gate, the Bronx’s songs have decelerated with time. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since musical maturation is essential to a long lifespan for any band. But the Bronx sounds tired here, as if their previous exploits sapped all of their passion and energy. The riffs are painfully rudimentary and the songs themselves are about as exciting as an infomercial. These once feisty feral animals sound caged, neutered and domesticated.
Part of the problem is their apparent newfound interest in the Cult. Vocalist Matt Caughthran adopts Ian Astbury’s Morrison-like drawl on more than a few songs, notably in the chorus to the insipid “Inveigh.” Though they play one in the new Germs biopic, the Bronx doesn’t want to be a punk band, they want to be a good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll band. And they appear to really want to embody that classic Los Angeles rock ethos, but they’re not musically capable of recreating such aural gluttony.
Opener “Knifeman” comes close to recapturing the vitriol of the Bronx’s debut, but nearly every song that follows repeats that same thudding, caveman-pounding beat. “Enemy Mind” features slashing, stop-and-start guitars and mildly compelling vocals, but ends up sounding like Refused without the balls or the brains. And the songs’ lyrics do little to serve their cause. Again, they indicate a band desperate to relive the nebulous ‘80s hair-metal halcyon days. “It’s time to lighten up,” shouts Caughthran, “Could you please wear a shorter dress?” They’re all sneer with no bite, all crotch with no mind, which is a shame considering the power this band is capable of. Let’s hope El Bronx, their upcoming mariachi album (seriously), compensates for this batch of tasteless cookie-cutter songs.