Band: Deaf Havana
Title: Fools & Worthless Liars
Released: November 6th 2011
Label: Wolf at Your Door (BMG)
Producer: Matt O’Grady
Sounds like: poppy, radio rock: Young Guns, Jimmy Eat World
The thing that endeared me most about Deaf Havana was that at a time when British alternative acts were becoming more mainstream and watered-down (see We are the Ocean, Young Guns, etc.), they bucked the trend with their debut album Meet Me Halfway at Least. James’ incredible vocals were delivered with interesting, clever melodies that were infectious without being cheesy and the music was uninhibited and interesting to listen to. The only negative was the screamed vocals, which unfortunately gave the album a level of immaturity that contradicted the quality of the song-writing, and veered the band closer to the generic screamo/post-hardcore label than they deserved. With the screamer gone from the band’s line-up though, much has changed.
The good news is that the vocals sound great; the bad news is that the music has taken a back seat and as such, most of the band’s endearing charm has disappeared. In the opening track James reveals his frustration with his own band’s popularity compared to his friends’ bands and it’s clear early on that this album aims to address that issue. The post-hardcore sound of the past is long gone, leaving Fools and Worthless Liars sounding closer to radio-rock, with simple song-structures and big choruses. The band were always likely to head into more mainstream territory with the absence of their screamer and whilst these songs will appeal to an audience who want a simple hook to digest, they’ll do little to please fans who want more substance in their music.
Most of the songs share the same tempo and key and on a couple of occasions I couldn’t tell that the song had ticked over to the next one. A lot of the vocal melodies sound too familiar as you get into the second half of the album, leaving the whole affair sounding ‘samey’ and unexciting, which is a stark contrast to the inventive inflections that I came to love from the previous album. When the melodies are impressive they tend to be overused, like ‘I Will Try’, where arguably the best melody on the album is repeated over and over again at the end of the song, leaving me completely desensitised to its effects in only one listen of the track. This is a problem when the drums and guitars – so effective on the previous album – have been effectively reduced to background music so that James’ vocals can take centre stage.
I know that I probably just sound bitter because I’m upset that they’ve changed their music style, but that really is not the issue here. I thought the removal of the screamer was the best thing the band could have done, and their decision to aim for a more accessible sound filled me with immense excitement. My issue is that they just haven’t made a good enough job of it. Yes there are some excellent tracks on this album, ‘Leeches’, ‘I’m a Bore…Mostly’ and ‘The World or Nothing’ are amongst some of the best songs they’ve written to date, but for every good song on the album, there’s another average one that brings the rest of it down. They’re an extremely talented bunch of musicians and I think they have the ability to take the mainstream by storm, whilst still delivering songs with enough quality to entice their core fans as well. We’re precious about bands that exist in our little microcosms of the musical world and when you see one of them wanting to graduate out there in the wider world, you want them to not only do themselves proud, but to do your scene proud as well. I feel that Deaf Havana had the perfect opportunity to show the masses that not only do we love some of our underground UK bands, but they might love them too if they took the time to look.
Admittedly, it’s very harsh to lump the role of ambassadors onto Deaf Havana, particularly when that would never enter their minds in the first place, but it raises an interesting point about how much expectation a band can end up creating for themselves as a result of showing true quality on a previous album. I can’t fault the band for wanting more success from their craft and whilst I understand their desire to do so, it’s disappointing that this ambition has led to a dilution in music quality. I’m sure that this album will help them achieve the boost in popularity that they’re after, but for how long I’m not sure, because these songs unfortunately do not last too long in the memory.