Some bad albums can provide entertainment value by inspiring laughter from horribly misguided musical decisions. Other bad albums are sonically fascinating in their failure. And then there are bad albums like The Boxer Rebellion’s Promises, which make me feel simultaneously angry and dejected. Albums that really have no business existing as they do. Albums that could be so damn much better. Promises is an abject waste of time and talent – a dull, uninspired mix of generic adult alternative and Coldplay-aping theatrics that perfectly encapsulates what happens when a band is out of ideas.
I could try to summarize what each song on this album sounds like, but what’s the point? Coldplay-aping just about covers it. There’s nothing interesting about most tracks, and even the ones that threaten to do something cool, like opener “Diamonds,” soon get buried under a mountain of synths and reverb, like a shitty Haddaway knockoff. There are no riffs to speak of on this album, just walls of faux-majestic sound and shimmering guitars, like late-period U2 without the personality. The Boxer Rebellion has never been a lyrically gifted band, but here, their words are more insipid than ever before, and moreover, they’re practically unintelligible under the walls of sound. One of the only tracks worth a damn is “You Belong To Me,” a simple piano ballad, but even the layer of synths on top of that song feels largely unnecessary. God, just writing about this album makes me sad.
The thing is, The Boxer Rebellion is capable of so much more. They’re capable of imbuing even their more atmospheric songs with a sense of purpose and energy, like Union’s “The Gospel of Goro Adachi” or The Cold Still’s “Both Sides Are Even.” They’re capable of writing faster, brasher songs too. Go listen to “Watermelon” from their debut album Exits right now. Seriously, go do it. Hear how Nathan Nicholson snarls while the band plays furious riffs behind him? Hear the crackling distortion and the electrified bass? Where the fuck is that kind of energy and drive on Promises? Why does the album sound like it’s driving a nail into the coffin of post-punk revival?
Knowing that the band is capable of making much more interesting music, Promises is almost insulting in its dearth of ideas. It’s as if they wrote a few melodies, came up with a few lines that sort of rhymed, and called it a day before turning everything over to the producer to cover it all with sweeping synthesizers and ringing guitars. The thing is, if a band does that, the product will always sound at least okay. Nothing on Promises sounds awful, but almost everything about it is relentlessly dull and mediocre. If The Boxer Rebellion had swung for the fences and failed miserably, then at least there would have been something to talk about. But Promises isn’t even worth discussing. It’s the most contemptible kind of artistic work – the kind made by people who just don’t seem like they give a shit. It’s not like The Boxer Rebellion tried and then gave up; it’s as if they never even tried in the first place.
Blerg. Blerg indeed.