Camden, North London, the perennial ‘Shangri La’ for all things British and indie, this year present Tribes as their latest in a long line of momentary poster children. Littered within the seemingly endless lists of ‘Ones to Watch’ that come our way every January, Tribes, with their debut album, have decided to strike before the iron gets cold. Following the release of single, ‘We Were Children’, the week previous, comes the band’s debut LP effort, ‘Baby’.
Penned during a period of personal struggle for lead-singer, Johnny Lloyd, ‘Whenever’ and its subsequent abrase of crunching guitar riff belie as veneer for a malaise and maligned ennui that runs through the majority of ‘Baby’. The opener eases in with the presence of a staple Feeder ‘quiet-loud’ dynamic, trading contemplation for bewailing come the FX-Pedal chorus. That being said; the song doesn’t quite have the legs to go any further the formula permits, making ‘Baby’s birth a little premature.
‘We Were Children’ is able to balance the stumble as it bombasts in with allied bite of electric guitar. More evocative of the power-rock genre, its verses build and build in acceleration and rush, but alas, fall into a whimper of a quietening chorus- an almost pithy withering on how kids who grew up in the 1990s are, perhaps, a generation lacking direction or meaning. The whole affair is hardly John Osborne’s ‘Angry Young Men’ movement of the 1950s and ‘We Were Children’ falls well short of its own Mott the Hoople ‘All the Young Dudes’ ambition.
Unfortunately, ‘Corner of an English Field’ and ‘Halfway Home’ fail to breathe life to a doldrum that had been hyped in the press to pedestal Tribes as the next big UK rock act set on world domination. ‘Corner of an English Field’ uses the same blueprint as ‘Whenever’ to, this time, sing about a recurring listlessness in Johnny Lloyd‘s own life, while ‘Halfway Home’ pushes the idiom further to an even more mid-tempo number- this time the verses are only nudged along by the hi-hat. Much of the problem Tribes face in their songs lay within their own protagonist, Johnny Lloyd.
Lloyd’s voice lacks in particularity and distinction. While always in tune, there is a feeling of the generic to his timbre. As a result, his own moments of fist-clenching feel whiny and self-pitying. Had his voice a more acerbic quality of a Kurt Cobain or Caleb Followill, Tribes would be able to carry their repertoire with a great deal more authenticity and the sound of a life and experience that had been lived in. Perhaps then, the songs would make for stronger listening.
In fact, the labours of Tribes‘ work much better when singing in a narrative, rather than a self-reflection. ‘Sappho’ tells the tale of an encounter with a sexually-ambiguous, as well as gender-ambiguous antagonist in the same familiarity of The Kinks ‘Lola’. But rather than use the after-hours, alcohol-fuelled sing-along of the aforementioned tranny with the ‘Dark Brown Voice’, ‘Sappho’s instrumentation takes inspiration Blur in their Britpop incarnation, along with flirtations with The Dandy Warhols ‘We Used to be Friends’, Beck’s ‘E-Pro’ and ‘Hide Another Mistake’ by The 88.
However, the band let themselves down again, opting for the mountain-sized self-pomp, and plea for sing-along that is ‘Himalaya’. Over its five arduous minutes, the song hopes to gradually construct a crescendo of emotion, but fails to go anywhere, instead opting to merely bounce to its base-camp chorus whenever Tribes are running low on ideas. The hooks are grand enough, but the rest of the terrain on map reads a little flat.
‘Nightdriving’ is the moonlit equivalent of ‘Halfway Home’ as the hi-hat verses run into more self-pity. The tryst of feelings almost renders the song into the realms of emo with a Camden trilby hiding its haircut. ‘When My Day Comes’ almost remedies this wrong with its return to ‘Sappho’-like quality. Some more ‘90’s bounce add flavour to the affair as the story of ‘Boy meets Riot Grrrl and an unbeatable spirit’ is propelled by Miguel Demelo finally being allowed to let his drum kit have some fun. Two consecutive moments of quality are also allowed to flourish as ‘Walking in the Street’ saunters in with some ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ drumming and more fun on in pop-rock surroundings.
Ever-frustratingly, Tribes then manage to disrupt the mood again with its feral take on the acoustic power-ballad. ‘Alone or with Friends’ showcases Johnny Lloyd with some ‘lonely-quarry-echo’ on his voice as his terse yearnings are joined by a punctual punch of bass and big slow skins halfway through the first verse- essentially ‘Himalaya’ without a hook or hope.
The lumpen middle-of-the-road rock carries into ‘Baby’s closer, ‘Bad Apple’; seeing off an album that is mostly already over-ripened- past its best by virtue of its own lack of imagination. Johnny Lloyd’s love letter to his ‘Baby’ is more than likely unrequited.
Rather than being ‘Ones to Watch’, the somewhat tame Tribes choice of name may well be main contender for ‘Misnomer of the Year 2012’. Regrettably, ‘Baby’ is a child for the self-involved, only. If these songs are to be Johnny Lloyd’s catharsis, then they lack any sort of universality needed to resonate amongst others.
Ultimately, these Tribes are too civilised to raise eyebrows, let alone take on the world.
Baby is out now.
Worth listening to…
- When My Day Comes
Words by Glen Walsh.