Three cheers for compromise. The Loved Ones have dropped two full-lengths in the last three years -- the punk rock fan favorite Keep Your Heart and the polarizing, classic rock-tinged followup Build & Burn. This year, the group found a happy medium in Distractions, an EP that combines Heart’s fervor with Burn’s sense of grandeur. Boasting three originals and three covers, the EP should win back a few of the older fans. It’s not perfect -- that Springsteen cover is shit -- but it’s a good holdover until LP #3.
“Distracted” kicks off the EP. Frontman Dave Hause tells a tale of spousal abuse and one woman’s fight to break free. The band, accompanied by Franz Nicolay on keys, pounds the song out thrillingly. “Distracted” would’ve been a welcome rocker on Build & Burn; when the guitar solo and snare drum buildup kick in, everything is perfect. Nicolay plays a dramatic piano intro to lead into track two, “Last Call,” and while it’s a little less memorable than “Distracted,” it’s still a solid cut. “Spy Diddley” should be familiar to anyone that downloaded Fat Wreck’s online Christmas compilation a few years back. Recorded way back when Michael “Spider” Cotterman was still in the band, it’s in tune with Keep Your Heart’s stompers. So for all the whiners, here’s your throwback.
The covers are a mixed bag. Things start off poorly with Hause covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Johnny 99” solo, just like the original. Unfortunately, nothing beats the acoustic guitar and old four-track that formed the haunting Nebraska tune. Hause’s use of an electric guitar and a full recording studio lose the atmosphere, and the slightly slurred vocals and wobbly tempo (according to the liner notes, Hause went in with a bottle of whiskey) don’t help either. Depending on your perspective, it’s either sacrilege or complete genius for the Loved Ones to play Billy Bragg’s “Summer Town Revisited” like it’s a Screeching Weasel song. Discount already proved that Bragg works in a pop-punk setting, so I’m leaning toward the latter.
The EP closes out with an acoustic take on “Coma Girl” by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. The Loved Ones reduce the energy and tempo a little bit, so it might be jarring at first for fans of the original. After a few spins, though, listeners should begin to realize why Hause thinks that “playing one of [Strummer’s] greatest songs as a campfire hymn befits his legacy.” Like Chris Salewicz wrote in Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer, ol’ Joe thought his Glastonbury campfires would be what he was truly remembered for. While the Loved Ones strip the Jamaican rhythms from “Coma Girl,” guitarists Dave Walsh and Chris Gonzalez adds plenty of texture to compensate. This kumbaya flavor is both homage and original take.
Distractions isn’t perfect -- “Johnny 99” is redundant and “Last Call” gets corny at times -- but it’s the honest-to-gosh rock and/or roll that the Loved Ones have always dependably turned out. The disc bridges the gap between the band’s two albums, shows some of their roots and even somehow manages to have its own identity. The title might imply that it’s a stalling slight of hand, but Distractions is a solid addition to the Loved Ones' discography.