There is a fine line that exists between paying homage to one’s influences and completely ripping them off to the point where your own band could very easily be called “______, Junior.” In the case of Robbers On High Street’s full-length debut Tree City, well, ladies and gentlemen, meet Spoon, Junior.
Their MySpace profile states that they’ve been playing together since 2002, and furthermore claims that Tree City is “the first great rock and roll album of 2005.” It’s baffling, then, that this collection of songs could sound so derivative. Everything that makes Spoon so beloved to its fans is echoed to the point of insanity here: the particular guitar twang, the melodies, the occasional subtle piano, the literate wordplay, even singer Ben Trokan’s voice sounds infuriatingly like Britt Daniel’s.
This is not to say that Tree City isn’t pleasant to listen to or not clever enough. In particular, “Japanese Girls” has a studied, love-and-the-rest-of-the-bullshit-weary cool, and “Big Winter” is lovely, in an acoustic, jaunty, early Spoon sort of way. It’s just that if this record has anything new to bring to the table at all, it’s cocooned itself so heavily in its own influences that it’s impossible to discern what exactly that something is.
There’s a lot of potential in these songs, and a lot of skilled musicianship, and they’re clearly enjoying themselves here. Perhaps this is just a case of a band that needs time to grow into itself and transcend its influences. In the meantime, and unfortunately so, Tree City can be summed up with a line from its own “Bring On The Terror:” “Sometimes I need a punch in the face, sometimes I need a leg in the ass.” And it’s a goddamn shame, too.