I came across this record a couple of weeks ago and have been giving it a bit of a sustained listen in the car and in my kitchen. It’s a bit of a grower. I didn’t know who Starcrawler were so I did a bit of research and discovered they’re a new LA punk band, with a singer called Arrow de Wilde (great name) and a debut album produced by Ryan Adams. And they range between 17 and 22 in age – I know, annoying isn’t it?
Anyway, in the course of that research I found a review of this album which had settled on Grunge as the band’s genre, but I have a few problems with that. For me, Grunge (let’s use the word although it’s widely agreed we all hate it) was very much a reaction to the rock and metal scene that immediately preceded it. It rejected a lot of what came before. I don’t think you can lay the same claim at the door of Starcrawler. There are too many influences at play here to make that comparison. Yes, at times there are shades of Nirvana or Hole in there, and at other times I can hear The Stooges, other LA punk bands like L7, or the sleazy glam of LA Guns and early Motley Crue – Shout at the Devil era, before they became more commercial and fell into the black hole of mainstream hair-metal. In fact, you probably couldn’t get more LA than this band. They have the history of the city’s music scene deeply embedded in there. And it’s a glorious reworking of all of it.
Album opener ‘Train’ is a short but intense statement of intent which pairs old school rock and roll rhythms with an irreverent punk ethic. ‘Love’s Gone Again’, the second song, sounds simultaneously in parts like an album track from Nirvana’s Bleach, and like it would be perfectly at home somewhere on the b-side of Appetite for Destruction. It’s the missing link between those two worlds, with a bit of Greg Dulli sounding guitar thrown in (via Afghan Whigs, or Twilight Singers). And then there’s ‘Pussy Tower’, which starts with a very traditional sounding riff that could be by anyone from The Rolling Stones to The Black Crowes. Except de Wilde’s vocals are more Juliette and the Licks, and I can’t imagine many of those more traditional bands writing a two minute track about oral sex from a female perspective.
It seems the lead-off single for the album is ‘I Love LA’ which I’ve shared below, although from the 2 minute mark as it’s one of those videos that takes ages to get to the song. (You can always rewind it back if you want to watch it all). This reminds me of Joan Jett, but delivered with equal doses of homage and irony. Which incidentally is my favourite combination when it comes to terms of reference.
‘Full of Pride’ is very Courtney Love to my ears. ‘Different Angles’ is very, well, spiky and angular, a little bit post-punk. And ‘Chicken Woman’ is much more dark ’60’s psych-rock sounding, a blues reworking in the same sort of style as mid period The Doors or something that might have come out of Andy Warhol’s Factory. There’s also ‘Tears’ which, to further illustrate the diversity on show, is a slower, introspective track with a guitar part that’s right out of the Pink Floyd songbook.
There’s not a lot of the album I’m able to easily share, so I’ve put a live session they’ve just recorded for SXSW below. They’re certainly an interesting band to watch as well. Very theatrical, which is no bad thing. There’s something to be said about getting your money’s worth when you make the effort to see someone perform live.
Anyway, I’ve referenced a lot of other bands in this review, and I could probably throw more in on top. The Ramones spring to mind, as do The New York Dolls. The reason for this, I guess, is to try and illustrate that there is a hell of a lot going on here. And yet, at the end of it all is a distillation of all these influences into something that sounds quite organic, something straightforward and uncomplicated. Starcrawler isn’t a fussy record, it’s very stripped back and direct. Don’t underestimate how difficult a thing that is to achieve.
Look, I’m not going to fall into the trap of proclaiming Starcrawler to be the future of rock and roll. I always cringe a bit inside when I hear that anyway. And the band haven’t yet hit the heights that some of their heroes have. But this is a very decent debut record. Even more so when you consider the age of the musicians and how accomplished they already are. I really like it. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next for them. Exciting too.