First impressions aren’t nearly as important as everyone makes them out to be. If they were, I would be much more smitten over this album than I actually am. And even though (spoiler alert) it’s not bad, my initial enthusiasm faded quickly.
With a pretty good band name, cool CD booklet artwork, a clever title take on David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and a good introductory song chosen randomly by the “shuffle” option on my CD player, this disc seemed to have a lot going for it. But by the end of the cycle, I found myself not only less impressed with Roll the Tanks -- I couldn’t even find the first song I really liked again! Either I was hyping up my own enjoyment, or the rest of the album’s patchiness washed away the early delight.
Based on re-listens, I would have to guess it was either “Police Me,” a catchy mid-tempo power-popper of threats to “Crash down on your Crown Vic,” or “Defense Mecca,” a choppy garage tune that must have been the one I liked because I remember muttering something to myself about the Briefs with an emo singer. And that’s exactly what some of the better songs come across as. Well, maybe not an emo singer, but whoever is singing (which is hard to tell since all the members are listed with respective instruments rather than vocals in the booklet) puts an unwelcome melodramatic sheen on every word in every line of every song. Case in point is “Gameshow Love,” which sandwhiches a charming intro and outro melody and great musical composition with an “iraaaaaaaational”-ly drawn out vocal delivery. Then there’s the dusty twang of “Loaded Gun,” which is also kind of catchy in some parts, but the repetitive chorus and vocals that keep reminding me of the Pink Spiders and the Matches nearly kill it.
But enough with the heavy-handed slander. There are some good songs on Suffer City and Roll the Tanks definitely know what they’re doing. “Look at Me” is a manic, bluesy screamer with the promise “In time we’ll reach up with a firm grip / See how strong his neck is / Bring him down to Earth for the Armageddon picnic” and “Blood Flow” is an infectious foot-tapper anchored by a fairly strong chorus. The main problem tracks are the wispy Spaghetti-Western-meets-Shins numbers like “Saddle Up,” “Loaded Gun,” and “Bonnie Brae,” which aren’t even unlistenable -- they just disrupt the flow and add some cringe where there otherwise might be none.
Suffer City is a fairly enjoyable, though sometimes mildly obnoxious debut that has the potential to get Roll the Tanks big. It has the pop appeal you would expect from a band punning David Bowie and the energetic kick to satisfy the rest of us. And fortunately for all parties, Roll the Tanks have nothing in common with their last.fm “similar artists” of “K’naan Ft. Kirk Hammet, Jonathan Davis of Korn Ft. Jim Root of Slipknot, and M.I.A. Ft. Jay-Z”, though the latter may have been kind of cool.