Tristan Thomas, of Florence Black has just been named best new guitarist by Music Radar, the music industry mag. It was a reader voted for competition, so not exactly unbiased, but lets face it, it is those out there listening who really matter. If they say Tristan Thomas is the best thing since Jimmy Page hit the opening salvo of Stairway to Heaven, I owed it to myself and to ya’all to give him and his band a fair listen. Florence Black, who have just released their first album, Weight of the World back in October this year to mostly solid critical acclaim are the darlings of the press. Can do no wrong, pushed as being solid rock and roll of a kind not seen since Whitesnake hung up their high heeled winklepickers. That said, nowadays it is seen as declassee for the critics of any large music media to be anything other than politely supportive and say whatever it takes to sell sounds, tickets and merch. Music critics now seem to be basically hype-men and whilst that is perfectly fine and dandy, it is not really what the game is about.
Back in the day the critic had a responsibility to help the music purchaser not waste their money on an album that it was impossible to hear before it was purchased. Listening to the radio obsessively might snag a half a track taster, but there we were with nothing but ‘the beer light to guide us’ as Bowie would have it, or at least a copy of Creem or NME, Rolling Stone or Q (who were boomers before their time, dedicated to the cause of middle-of-the -road). Nowadays everything can be heard (ahem..stolen) for free on streaming, and songs are easily accessed for a listen before any money is put down. I don’t know anyone who actually buys albums any more. I don’t own a stereo, and I dont have a single CD. I watch the damn ads and listen to youtube like any other broke ass music fan with a need for everything at my fingertips immediately accessible. This is the age of instant gratification, we want do-be-do-de-dooo ‘the real thing’ and when do we want it? Now!
So is Tristan ‘the real thing’? Sadly not. No soul, a lot of noodling around, like Steve Vai had a love child with Slash and gave it up for adoption into the Spinal Tap family. The lyrics are so bad they are almost humorous. I thought he was singing “Cause I want my love/ Can you feel it in my balls?/Can you feel it in my skin?/I can feel it in my head.” He was actually singing ‘bones’ not ‘balls’. To be frank I prefer my misheard version, at least it is poking fun at the sheer ‘more cowbell-ness’ of the song.
Sure, Tristan can play, but he has no guts or soul to his sound. He isn’t as technical master like the dreaded Vai, nor does he engender that warm pit of yer belly glow like Michael Parks Jr of All Them Witches. He is not a tone and emotion vendor like the gorgeous Adrienne Lenker of Big Thief. Heck, he ain’t even Buck Meeks with his reedy experimental jive. Are Florence Black the new Whitesnake? Heck no. They are not even Black Oak Arkansas. It is a few boys playing at being a mash up of their favorite light metal, 80s rock bands, and sounding like a pastiche of themselves, when they barely have an identity or a sound of their own to start with.
It is a cover band without the good material of the covers. We have been here before in recent years, all the false starts, Greta Van Fleet, for instance. Jake Kiszka, to be honest is a better guitarist for all his Jimmy Page schtick. If the band just tried to sound like themselves, they might have got somewhere, and they should stand as a stark warning to Florence Black of where this gravy train is going to be end up: off the tracks and into the bargain bin, if they don’t find their own way. They will, instead of getting on the ‘this train is bound for rock and roll glory’ trip, end end up being a bit of a novelty act of sounding like a kiddy Led Zep or Whitesnake, or Alice Cooper even (who never took himself seriously and that was a good thing), but without the bite, or the tracks like Poison to back it up.
Instead, they just suck, because they end up being a pale imitation of the Real Thing. The Strypes are a decent blues band, who come on like an early Rolling Stones, but they just don’t have the material, even if they have the sound and the chops. They are doing a genre at least, instead of a faithful rip off of a sound without the material to really to do it well. It is like when yer ma says ‘hey kids, we have Led Zep at home’, and leave ya feeling a bit empty and a lot cheated. This is the generic cereal of the music world. We want something new. Say something. Sound like something. Be your own guys, instead of trying and failing to be something you worship, yet are not.
Florence Black are just a pastiche of those 80s rock bands, like Guns and Roses, but without any of the invention and freshness of what they are trying to sound like. It is bloodless, soulless, gut-less pap, which might remind people of the days when music was worth listening to, even if it was just Guns and Roses on the radio singing about Civil Wars…like Asshole Rose once sang, it “ain’t that fresh!” this shit from the Florence boys ain’t fresh either. It is recycled emotion from the time that good taste and music forgot. The 80s were generally the least OG of the decades of the height of modern music culture: the no man’s land between the beauty of the ’70s and the grunge talent revival of the ’90s. For Florence Black to sound like a pale imitation of music that was not that good to start with, is not something to build a sound or career on.
Can You Feel It is a painting by numbers heavy rock song, made by a band who think if you smash it hard, if you play it fast and clean up the sound to the point of Dire Straits polish, it equals good music. It does not. They are missing the heart and soul to the enterprise…not to mention the feeling and the talent. The entire concept of the band is unsatisfactory. The overdubbing of the distant distorted military style voice, bringing to mind things that Guns and Roses were doing 35 years ago in Use Your Illusion, 1 and 2. It was passé almost as soon as it was recorded even back then. Now it is just cheesy, slightly embarressing and a bit lame. It isn’t even new. The rough voiced Alice in Chain rip off vocals are dullsville, and not pleasing nor irritating, not rough enough, nor smooth, it exists in this empty space of merely a bit shit really. Pale imitation. 40 cent off brand cola of a song. A naugahyde sofa of a track that has been kept with the plastic still on to stop grandma’s cat from shredding it with it’s tame cat claws. It has a formulaic start, a regulation middle and no end to speak of, instead continuing to thump like thump is all it has (which is the case) and merely fades out, leaving the band in a hellish eternity of forever playing a cut price version of a Metallica track in the school hall, feeling like rock gods and sounding like they belong in a pub in a small town, where I bet the locals would get bored of the pretty fast too.
I had a brief meander around the rest of the album. None of it sounds good. A lot of playing fast but soullessly, and playing loud but boringly. Sun and Moon might be the best track on the album, it makes a stab at being anthemic, but still chugga chugga’s along doing it’s best to pastiche other bands, in this case an unholy mash up between Pink Floyd and 80s butt rock, except they don’t have a Gilmour and Waters, even if they steal the bassline from One of These Days (Im gonna cut you into little pieces), and Tristan tries his best to channel Gilmour.
It just doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board. I am just not feeling it.
(2/10 – they can at least play their instruments, even if I wish they wouldn’t)