Chris Shiflett of Jackson United, Foo Fighters, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and No Use for a Name fame started a new side project called Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants. Unlike all those bands I just listed, it is a country band. I enjoy some alt country, but the Dead Peasants’ debut album is a very mixed bag. The songs range from pop country songs that are often pretty good to somewhat forced-sounding “overly” country songs which aren’t always terrible but the majority of them are somewhat bland.
The album starts off with “Helsinki,” a song that sounds like if a country band covered a Jackson United song off Western Ballads and slowed it down a little bit. The song actually works very well with slow, heartstring-pulling verses and choruses that are a little bit faster and very catchy, along with some nice guitar work and drum build up while Shiflett sings “you don’t have to live like this”. The next song is the single, “Get Along”, which is slow and steady. It is a catchy song that also sounds like it would go nice with some drinking alone, but like many of the songs on the album, the fact that it is four-and-a-half minutes becomes noticeable as it begins to overstay its welcome.
“Bandaged” takes the album a little bit further over to the country side of things. I guess that is the logical direction to head when one starts a country side project, but the song is a little too mellow and contains unnecessary twangs that seem there mostly to remind you that you are listening to country music. With a repeated line of “I was wrong, but it was the right choice” during the choruses and lyrics about heartbreak, it all just seems to scream “country” a little too unnecessarily hard. With all those criticisms mentioned, the song has some fairly good verses and, with a different style of guitar playing, I’d probably even enjoy the song. Perhaps this is what people are talking about when they complain about Gaslight Anthem wearing their influences so obviously.
As a huge fan of blasphemy, I want to like the next track “God Damn”, but it also does its best to be a “real” country song and it simply doesn’t really go anywhere. While it doesn’t have such country guitar playing, it just isn’t a very interesting song. Following that is “Burning Lights”, a Joe Strummer cover, and while it has plenty of the aspects of the previous two tracks, it works drastically better. It comes off more earnest and is a lot more fun to hear. Maybe it is the added pop aspect that “Bandaged” and “God Damn” lacked. “An Atheists [sic] Prayer” is, without a question, an interesting song title. I can hear what the song is getting at and the point it is trying to make and it all has potential, but it is very slow and five minutes long--this, combined with repetitive lyrics, makes it the low point of the album.
“Not Going Down Alone” takes us back onto the path of “country band covering Jackson United” that the album started on. It is a fun song. Fairly mellow, but a breath of fresh air after the last few tracks. At two minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome either. “Baby, Let It Out,” however, might be the best sound for the Dead Peasants. It starts out slow and quiet before the rest of the band joins in and things get dancey. From there, it builds even further with keyboards at one point. It could fall into the category of country-esque Jackson United, but it actually has its own sound. The lyrics are genuine and sad, but not overly so to the point of just being uninteresting. “Death March” is the final track and, from the very first second, it is clear the band is going back for one more try at going full country. While it has an intimate feeling to it, the song feels like it was cut short, ending bluntly. While not the strongest way to close the album, the track is a solid effort and the listener doesn’t leave the album with a bad taste from the final song.
Somewhat strangely, despite not changing his vocals much from Jackson United, they work fine on these country songs. Unlike, say Tumbledown, Shiflett’s voice don’t sound just too damn pop-punk for these country songs. Another thing to note about this album is that it is nine songs long. With the majority of the songs being longer than a standard punk song (only three are under three-and-a-half minutes) and the resulting album clocking in at a decent album length (thirty-four-and-a-half minutes), the short track listing gives off the impression that these are the best of the best and I shouldn’t have expected any weak ones as, with nine songs, the iffy songs had clearly been culled from the album. As I’ve documented, the record has some good songs and some bad songs. It is clear they are still attempting to find their sound, but it seems that, while they do that they could have released a very solid EP instead of this album.