The River City Rebels have turned a corner here, but the direction they're headed in will likely polarize their fan base.
Personally I've always been a bit ambivalent to the band. Sure, they're a mainstay touring band and their commitment to the road is commendable, but the band's rehashed `77-anthems simply didn't stand up as well as the similar rehashed `77-anthems that were coming from bands like Rancid or the US Bombs. RCR, due to the sheer volume of similar bands more than any fault of their own, have always just seemed like also-rans.
However their latest effort Hate To Be Loved is quite interesting in that it finds the band channelling the New York Dolls and Dictators rather than The Clash. Strangely enough the River City Rebels sound far more comfortable in this skin than their prior one. Bopper's snotty, often high-pitched, vocals are a better fit for sleazy glam than they are guttural shout-along street punk. Just compare the scathing "Hurt Like I Do" to "Dreamy 17" for an on-disc example. Not that the moments when the Rebels lapse into their past songwriting styles are of lesser quality, far from it, but the band's current direction has far more character and is just simply more interesting.
Yet therein lies the question: Are the River City Rebels shamelessly jumping styles to a more fashion conscious and arguably trendier genre?
...and the answer is "yes, but they've done it the right way." The Rebels have always percolated just below the surface of being one of the bigger modern punk bands, so I'd argue that while this move might sour a few old fans, the "re-imaging" of the Rebels ultimately works to their benefit. Also while they've moved out of somewhat stagnant post-Clash waters they didn't do something as blatantly trendy as jumping on the post-Television bandwagon. The New York Dolls may be getting more press from the punk / garage community as of late due to their Morrissey-fostered reunion shows, but I'd say they're far from the top of today's hipster rip-off list (on which Gang Of Four and PIL reign supreme). Finally the fact that NYDolls guitarist Syl Sylvain is in the producer's chair gives this whole shift not only a root cause, but a nod towards credibility (the fact that Victory's ever voracious press machine hasn't jumped all over this fact is rather surprising too).
The album opening "Hurt Like I Do" forgoes the usual bombastic lead track and instead starts things off with a slow building, vulnerable rock song. The glam influences and the Rebels' ever present knack for a good chorus shine through on "I'm So Vain" and "No Easy Way Out." There's a blues swagger that runs through the record, emerging rather viciously in "Die Young" and in a more jovial way in "Her New Man." If recording under Sylvain and band's current image doesn't drive the point home, there's even a cover of Otis Redding's "Don't Mess With Cupid," also famously covered by... you guessed it...
If you can put up with the obvious hero worship, and I can, Hate To Be Loved is quite the competent and enjoyable rock record. Top it off with a great stable of guest musicians, Lisa Fischer, ex-D Generation frontman Jesse Malin and Slackers lead Vic Ruggerio among others, and the River City Rebels have crafted one of the more enjoyable records of their career.
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