Terrible Human Beings
February 17 2017 (Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records)
Words: Richard Cobb
Chicago’s The Orwells were one of those bands that I’d somewhat unfairly written off on account of hearing about 30 seconds of one of their songs on Jools Holland a couple years back and not feeling a great deal of desire to research them any further. When this third album 'Terrible Human Beings' dropped into my inbox a few weeks back, I thought it would do no harm giving it a quick spin to see if I was wrong.
The album was recorded in their hometown at Electrical Audio Studios and produced by the highly sought after Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele). On first listening I was instantly drawn in by the opening track, ‘They Put A Body In The Bayou'. There’s a foot-stomping drum beat and strong vocals throughout, whilst in the foreground there’s a Pixies-esque fight with guitar feedback effects throughout which are a strong theme on this album, adding power and substance. It’s a simple enough track, but one of the best three-minute, all-out garage-rock tunes I’ve heard in a good while.
This is followed by ‘Fry’ which sounds a bit like a modern ‘In Bloom’ by Nirvana. It’s not bad, though there’s a lack of elements to it which make it feel unjustifiably short as just as a new idea is introduced, it cuts off without seeing it through. ‘Vacation’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album. There’s a sunshine vibe about the guitar lines which channel The Strokes earlier stuff without ripping it off. ‘Black Francis’ is in the band's own words an ‘homage’ to The Pixies. Guitarist Matt O’Keefe stated that, The Pixies were "an obsession” when the band were recording the record, so it’s nice to see such an open tribute to them, as it’s clear that their influence is really at the album's heart.
By track eight, I was sure that ‘Hippie Soldier’ was a shoe-in for a future set closer and fan favourite at their live shows as the build-up of the song culminates in a frantic last 40 seconds, which would sound epic in any venue. The line “just because you took the easy way out, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about” really stuck out for me too.
Closer ‘Double Feature’ is verging on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in length, which I was a little cautious of, but it’s an absolute belter. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had this on repeat since I first heard it. The vocals, the instruments and the production are all spot on here. Midway there’s a gradual walking bass line, and a snare/high-hat combo to accompany it, before the lead guitar creates an effortlessly dreamy feel. For me this acted as a perfect time to reflect on how good this record is. The song and album end it suitably chaotic fashion, with what sounds like a reverse effect on the vocals and some strings. After hearing this, I can’t imagine the band finishing their live sets with anything else.
While there's a couple of lower key moments on 'Terrible Human Beings', and adopting a less is more approach - as with 13 tracks, there’s a lot of silence to fill - might have been beneficial, the high moments - particularly the last track - really make this a work of art, one in which The Pixies could be proud of influencing, and one The Orwells can be very proud of creating.