There’s a lot on the Damnwells’ Bastards Of The Beat that will seem familiar to fans of alt-country over the past decade. That can be both a good and bad thing. There are nods to the obvious: Westerberg, Wilco, Jayhawks, Whiskeytown and the Old 97’s, with leanings toward the poppier moments of americana-turned-pop acts like the Marah, Goo Goo Dolls and Soul Asylum. Most of the time I can’t tell if the Damnwells are playing it a little too close while they wear their influences on their sleeves or if they’re trying to figure out a specific formula for success and are studied in what has worked for a certain sect of bands over the past decade.
All the same, there are a handful of decent tracks on this album that warrant repeated listening and might even make it onto a comp for a friend. Although some songs are strong and stick with you, they don’t have enough of their own legs to stand on. The power pop of “What You Get” and rock and roll shuffle of “Kiss Catastrophe” takes a page out of the early solo Westerberg songbook. The more pensive “I’ll Be Around” could be a throwaway track from Being There-era Wilco. “Newborn History” sounds as if Damnwells’ drummer Steven Terry got his old bandmates from Whiskeytown to show up and cut a track for his new band.
The second half of the album starts to falter starting with “Sleepsinging” which actually crosses the line to AOR and falls a little flat. The decline continues with the next several tracks sounding like poor covers of 80s college root rock acts like the Bo Deans, dB’s, the Silos, and the Del Lords. Though before they completely wipe out they catch their step with the soft drone of the closing track “Texas” which actually stands out on its own and feels fresh against the backdrop it’s propped against.
Given the influences that shine through in the songs on this album, I’d expect to like it more, but the album comes across a little too studied and unoriginal. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of talent displayed on this album. I’ll definitely keep my eye out to see if the Damnwells can step out of the shadow of their influences to create something amazing with their next album.