REVIEW: Beta Band: Hotshots II
Beta Band: Hotshots II (Astralwerks, 2001)
I mean seriously, what the hell is with this year? When January rolled around I was like "Dude. Look at all these amazing-super bands who are releasing albums in 2001!" So I twiddle my thumbs, wait around, and bad things happen. Dave Matthews Band's Everyday? Cheap and lousy! REM's Reveal? Summery but lightweight! Radiohead's Amnesiac? Good but not good enough! Belle and Sebastian's Jonathon & David? Crap! Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American? Mainstream dumb-pop-punk! Thank god the new Cake album's good.
And the Beta Band? Well...
When I saw High Fidelity I went out and got both the Scottish group's 3 EPs album, and their official debut, The Beta Band. The former is a pretty damn good disc, mixing glorious stoner-folk with psychedelic soundscapes. "Dry the Rain" has a chorus of pure euphoric bliss, "Dr Jones" gets me every time with its caterwaul-goes-xylophone. The disc oscillates from one pole (straight-ahead song) to the other (random sound-effects), and although it doesn't make for a consistently excellent album, it makes for a great special album, one that stands apart from its peers.
The Beta Band was considerably more mixed up, and the Band knew it. In a famous official comment, they stated that it was "shite". And they kinda had a point. It was over-produced if anything, indulgent in the way that it fucked around for minutes on end. "Brokenupadingdong" is among the best things they've recorded, but it hardly makes up for the disjointed half-thoughts of "The Beta Band Rap" and "Number 15".
But it was interesting. Different.
Hotshots II isn't bad. It's actually good. But it's harmless, disposable, fun on one day, boring on the next. Gone is the experimentation, gone are the diamonds in the rough. It's an album entirely made up of "Dry the Rain"-style plodders, all mid-tempo, and while yeah, their drowsy folk was their best stuff, it was only so great because it was in the context of all the rest. It sounded cool because it was a coming-together out of the unfocused landscape.
Hotshots II opens with "Squares" - the lead singer's ubiquitous multi-tracked vocals over a silly drum loop. Eventually a string sample and some synths mosey on in, but the song remains simple, driving to sing-along chorus and absolutely zero emotional effect. Not that we listened to the Beta Band for emotional effect, but now all that kooky experimentation has been replaced with eleven actual songs, so I hoped that maybe, well... sigh.
"Al Sharp" demonstrates the reasons why a flawed Beta Band album is still better than most of the dreck on the shelves, digging an angelic "serene moment in the sky" out of a plodding non-melody. This works again on "Gone", but in "Dragon" and "Broke" it simply sounds forced. "C'mon dudes, let's push this into a fun chorus!"
Final (official) track, "Eclipse", is a high-point, more than anything
because it traverses a broad sonic territory, from a silly, makes-me-laugh-out-loud ditty to an anthemic, drum-laden climax ("We all sing together when the cuckoo calls!") to a finger-snapping resolution, and into some piano whispering and an absurd lyrical wrap-up. It's fun, and it's strange, and it's unconventional.
What about the rest of the tracks that I haven't mentioned? Well, see above, read, repeat. Hotshots II is an album full of sameness - the Beta Band's decided on a formula and it's sticking to it. Which blows.
Of course there's a bonus track. "Won" is supagroovycool for the simple reason that it uses a sample from Three Dog Night's famous "One", a song recently (and deliciously) covered by Aimee Mann on the Magnolia soundtrack. The sliding seventies strings of the original number are twisted in with some pretty decent rap, and it's interesting to hear the hard-edge hip hop so closely after the end of a sleepy psychofolk album. What's best about the song is just how unexpected it is - heavily sampled black rap? Where the heck did that come from? But as a bass-line rises to the fore with piano and a guitar thrash, familiar Beta Band elements seep in. It's a mystery track as mystery tracks should be -- different.
On Hotshots II, the Beta Band overcomes a positively shitty title to produce eleven distracting hazy-day tunes. Unfortunately, most everything sounds the same, and the true talent of the band only shines through in those moments of exploration. A satisfying formula, but a formula nontheless.
The Beta Band will be opening for Radiohead across all of their 2001 North-American tour.
YLTIYL: King Biscuit Time, Super Furry Animals, Cornelius, Optiganally Yours.