The Compulsions want you to remember the first time you’ve ever heard rock ‘n’ roll. Quite a vivid memory for me. It was the first time I had ever left New York -- a car trip to Tampa, Florida. My dad popped a tape into the player from the driver's seat, and my musical life would never be quite the same. I’d later find out that very first song was none other than "Maybelline," by the great Chuck Berry himself.
Now, I think of Chuck Berry -- I think the father of rock ‘n’ roll. I think the Compulsions, and I wonder who told some band at a dive bar in Brooklyn that it’d be a good idea for them to record an album.
This doesn’t call to mind the magic of "Maybelline," the showstoppers that are the Rolling Stones, or the legendary Led Zeppelin. This doesn’t call to mind rock ‘n’ roll whatsoever, and the fact that the band had the audacity to even indirectly compare themselves to those greats is infuriating.
The Compulsions lack two integral elements that all the other musicians I’ve mentioned so far thrived off of. Elements that defined them as not only musicians, but people too. Soul and swagger. Heart and confidence. However you want to word it -- the Compulsions don’t have it. Their low-tempo bar room projections fall flat in a wide variety of arenas. Rob Carlyle’s lackadaisical approach hurts the band from the get go, and it filters into his band-mates as well. The songs lack not only emotion but any element that would make them otherwise compelling. Carlyle’s voice has got a little of the laid-back rock feel and a little bit of country twang ("Shake Hands with the Devil" really brings out the latter) and he’s completely unable to turn it into an inviting song. The rest of the band is equally lifeless, and it’s not necessarily because of the low-tempo rhythms, it’s the underlying feeling derived that they’re doing something important. Listening to this band gives me a great image of smug 40-somethings on a bar room stage posing as Aerosmith.
To get a similar mental image, watch the Bowflex infomercial that runs late at night. You know the bald guy that says “I’m living my dream now, I play in a rock ‘n’ roll band,” right? This entire band is composed of that guy. Smug facial expressions complete with the jeans and no t-shirt look. I’d rather hear a karaoke album, and I hate karaoke.
Chuck Berry was and is everything pure and right about rock ‘n’ roll. His music is fun above all else, made for summer days, lemonade and convertibles. This is made for dive bars inhabited by jaded musicians who know all too well about dead end careers.