Released January 10th of this year, Beach Slang’s latest full length album “The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City” is mix of rock subgenres, all of which I’ve obsessed over for most of my adult life. While 2016’s “A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings” was written with two of my favorite bands as the basic template: The Replacements and Jawbreaker, when writing this new material, it seems that guitarist/vocalist and primary songwriter James Alex (formerly of Weston) spent time in a deep glam and powerpop dive, employing common tropes of those genres throughout this record. The spacey guitar leads of his previous songs have been replaced with chunky walking leads and squealing bends, padded with huge Cheap Trick-esque chords backing up most of the louder tracks.
The band has doubled down on on the Replacements/Paul Westerberg influence already apparent on their older material. The overly distorted vocal effects of “Teenage Feelings” have been dialed back, and the vocal melodies and keyboards smack of later era Replacements records. Tommy Stinson (Replacements, Bash and Pop) was even enlisted to play bass on this one.
I was excited for this record to be released for a number of reasons; I’d really enjoyed their previous work, I had heard the rumor that Tommy Stinson was on board, it was being released on my birthday, James Alex is a Pennsylvania guy, the tracklisting showed a reference to recently deceased powerpop genius Tommy Keene; etc. On the first listen on my birthday, playing it on my basement hi-fi, I was less than impressed to say the least. What I heard on this first listen was not a talented fanboy channeling his favorite bands into something new and interesting. What I heard were bits and pieces of photocopied scripture sloppily stapled together and turned in late. It took (at least for me) more than a few listens to settle into what is really being done here, but more on that later…
The opening track, “All the Kids in LA” serves as an intro, beginning with a brief string arrangement that’s almost immediately taken over by layers of Cheap Trick-esque stadium rock guitars fading into the first proper song “Let it Ride.” The guitars on this track are reminiscent of “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements with much use of open G tuning hammer-ons. Lyrically, it’s all Paul Westerberg self-deprecation: “Got trash can charm and a bag of pills / My face ain’t much but it pays the bills,” and the chorus, “Did you come to watch me choke…again.” The high-speed “Bam Rang Rang” follows, sounding a lot like “Atom Bomb” of off their last studio record. In an interview, James Alex explained that the title is a phrase used by Paul Westerberg in a 1980's interview to describe The Replacements sound at the time. At about the halfway mark, the song seems to disappear and reemerges as a stomping glam rock outro. “Tommy in the 80s” (a play on the Tommy Keene song title “Warren in the 60s”) is more Replacements worship with horn samples similar to “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Big points to Alex for not only knowing who Tommy Keene was, but writing a simple tribute here to his memory.
“Nobody Say Nothing/Nowhere Bus” is the first acoustic ballad on the album with jangling 12-string strumming and a lush strings. It’s a very simple arrangement compared to what preceded it with the repeated line, “Just hush / Nobody say nothing shut up.” It bleeds into the following track, which continues with the same strumming, only the chorus morphs into, “I’m a one way ticket on a nowhere bus.” “Stiff” is more of the big guitar chords and walking blues riffs we heard earlier on the record, a little on the boring side with an absurd amount of the guitar bends we also heard earlier. “Born to Raise Hell” is basically the same song as “IOU” by The Replacements with some slight differences here and there. “Sticky Thumbs” sounds a bit more original with its own sense of identity among the heavily ‘Mats influenced material. A slowed down powerpop bridge section clinches the track. “Kicking Over Bottles” borrows the guitar lead and horns from “Can’t Hardly Wait” (again?!) but it totally works here in a different sounding context. The closing ballad “Bar No One” is a piano-based track where Alex’s voice sounds at its best; clear and concise not biting someone else’s melody or subject matter. Strings and horns are employed, but unpretentiously over the chorus, “I wanna look pretty lying in my grave.”
As I previously mentioned, it took me a handful of listens to get over all of the copycat-isms going on throughout most of this album. Besides just the song structure and guitar methods, the lyrical content is so blatantly Westerberg (self-depricating, alcohol, cigarettes, buses, bars, death) I suppose I was shrugging it all off as simply useless to me. I already own and have worn out all of The Replacements’ records (except “All Shook Down,” but that’s another story). What I finally realized is that even though The Replacements and other previously mentioned bands are influences on my own songwriting, there’s only little hints of it here and there in my songs. What Alex and Beach Slang have created here is a whole different idea: they don’t hide their influences in their songs; their influences ARE their songs. I don’t get offended by bands that sound just like Black Sabbath, The Ramones, et al, so why should I dismiss an otherwise great and fun record because it sounds a lot like my favorite band did in the 80s? Rock and roll is supposed to be fun and not always take itself too seriously. These guys wear their influences on both of their sleeves, and there’s nothing wrong with that, albeit a little shocking and hard to swallow for a similar fanboy like me. Maybe we will see more releases in the future focusing on this specific and hard to label (I’ve heard critic-rock?) type of rock and roll from the past. If that's what you worship, then I say worship away.