After a two-year wait to see what The Growlers would come up with next, City Club is arguably quite the let-down. To be fair, any fan should have seen it coming.
The Californian group have made a move from their ‘beach goth’ roots – dark lyrics accompanied by a mix of psychedelic, pop, country, and punk – in 2014 with Chinese Fountain, which has a much cleaner sound than their earlier albums. It also plays with an 80s-vibe, which City Club unfortunately incorporates into every single track.
The strong 80s influence is the album’s biggest flaw. The title track, for example, has so much potential, but a synthetic, static noise is forced and overpowers the chorus, which sadly hints at the type of Growlers tune we had all wished and hoped for.
One might give them some credit for progressing from their trademark beach goth style, as they had been developing this for about eight years. A band cannot be expected to turn out identical albums simply because they have a fanbase that likes that specific sound. The problem is that it is not a new sound: it is practically a replica of material from Julian Casablancas and The Strokes. Seeing that City Club was produced by Casablancas himself with Cult Records (Casablancas’ own label), perhaps this should not come as too much of a surprise.
It is such a disappointment because The Growlers do not need to sound like anyone else. Frontman Brooks Nielsen has such a unique voice, which gave their earlier music that scratchy, ‘homemade’ sound. The new album is so covered by synth and effects that you would have to be at a live show to fully appreciate what the musicians are doing. Only the lyrics are as good as their previous work, but unfortunately they are undermined by the overproduced accompaniment.
In hindsight it is laughable that the band turned down Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys to produce their third album, Hung At Heart, because they were producing too much of a ‘radio sound’. The only way City Club might be able to shake this sound is if it is heard live.
Photo: The Growlers Band