A garage band with one foot outside the garage, the Dirtbombs has always seemed bent on expanding their horizons, retaining standard rock themes while making room for more extensive explorations. Their last album, 2008’s We Have You Surrounded, took on a post-apocalyptic concept in the context of short, gritty songs, shaping a larger narrative while eschewing the usual flab associated with this kind of undertaking. On the heels of such a tight, surprisingly well-executed lark, Party Store appears woefully half-baked, a slack attempt that never really coalesces into a whole.
The album opens somewhat unevenly with “Cosmic Cars,” a surly mass of plodding, distorted guitar and monotone lyrics. Yet at least in this sense, on this and others songs that get by on subtle hints of self-awareness, like the gruff “Alleys of Your Mind,” the band’s tone still feels familiar, muscular, and grouchy. They fall somewhere between tribute and parody, synthesizing the brute energy of Detroit muscle rock with a kind of dissociative wryness.
If the band is innately familiar with the rules of this kind of territory, they sound completely out of their depth in other attempts. The strangest track here is “Good Life,” a catchy but incessantly vapid dance number that seems slipped in from an entirely different album. Lead singer Mick Collin’s harsh voice is matched with a sunny-sounding female companion, resulting in what’s either an over-elaborate joke or lame attempt at accessibility. The band gets in even further over their heads with the sickly one-two punch of “Bug in the Bassbin” and “Jaguar,” two soggy instrumentals that clog up 27 minutes of time, amounting to little more than piddling noise.
The band kicks back into gear for the forceful, repetitive “Tear the Club Up.” By this point, Party Store has comprised eight songs and 50-odd minutes, one half of which has been utterly wasted. A refusal to accept genre limitations has generally been the band’s strong point, but here there’s no hint of any kind of integration. Rather than work their way into the fabric of each song, the experimental gestures all end up as self-contained songs, leaving Party Store sounding not only too skimpy, but unalterably diffuse.