Three-Way Tie for Last
Local trio turns an apparent lack of style into a style all its own
Sorry to Drop This on You (Superdrag Sound Laboratories)
There are a few basic truths regarding great rock ’n’ roll: that it is simple, dumb, and yet stylish. (A case in point, the following line from The Rolling Stones: “I can’t get no satisfaction/I can’t get no girl reaction.”) It’s embarrassingly easy to convince people that Murfreesboro turbo-rockers Slack fulfill the first two criteria. But convincing those who’ve seen the three ruffled-jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing band members that the band is stylish may be an altogether more difficult task.
Style, in rock ’n’ roll terms, is not a strictly sartorial affair. So Slack may look disheveled, but their less-than-fashionable clothes are a nod to the kind of music they make: They don’t dress up to entertain or impress or woo; they dress to rock. Because Slack is one loud guitar, one loud bass, a hell of a drum kit, and a mess of great songs. The band’s new release, Sorry to Drop This on You, out this month on Superdrag Sound Laboratories, features eight of those songs.
What the Slack boys do is nothing revolutionary. Their music takes great inspiration from punk but doesn’t offend or aggravate; in fact, listening to their lyrics, Slack often lie down and take a kicking. Their misery is super-contemporary, a kind of jaded, “I’m so bored with being cynical” attitude. On the album’s opener, “Ignition,” singer Chris Slack—the band members have all taken the same surname, in the spirit of The Ramones—spits out bored sneer after bored sneer as he describes the band’s (or any other’s) grab for the brass ring. “All Along,” the second track, is snotty from the outset: “As we pulled into the drive / I soon remembered why / We swore we’d never come back.” Those lines are topped only by the even funnier and snottier chorus: “You picked the right one all along / So don’t complain.”
The rest of the tracks fuel the rock pyre with more guitar bravado and good-naturedly sarcastic sneers. The driving “Request” relents only for a half-time “whoa-oh” refrain before resuming with a super-hooky descending guitar riff and the chorus, “You’re in the backdrop of my mind.” The simple two-note riff on “Down Playment” is more effective than an army of complicated guitar noodlings. And “DA-20” combines youthful angst with smart words and music to create a feeling of instant nostalgia. “I don’t wanna be a jerk,” Chris sings, “but I’m the one who’s getting burned / Don’t even look my way.”
Though Slack’s “whoa-oh” refrains reference The Misfits’ vocalizings, it is Weezer whom they most resemble. The similarity is not necessarily immediate, but for all their supposed boredom and lethargy, Slack are really a damn catchy rock band. Each song is driven by heavily rhythmic power chords and HUGE drums; each song has an instantly classic chorus. Their power rock pays homage to the power pop scene that Nashville has cultivated for years. But rather than take that well-trod road and attempt to be cleverer than the Shazams, Joe, Marc’s Brothers, et al., Slack just wanna out-rock them. They succeed marvelously on Sorry to Drop This on You, which is rough enough around the edges to appease the indie crowd but definitely catchy and big-sounding enough to snare AOR fans.
Along with the lyrics and driving power chords, Slack’s sense of style is defined as much by their theatrics. The hilariously overwrought dramatic pauses of “All Along” and “Something Wrong” do more than just draw attention to the whole ridiculousness of having dramatic pauses in the first place. They offer the band a moment to look at their audience and think, “I wish I could sneer and mean it.” This is not to say that the Slack boys are insincere, but rather that they come from a generation so imbued with cynicism that, like the kids at the Hullabalooza concert on an episode of The Simpsons, they are no longer able to tell the difference between being sarcastic and earnest. Listening to Sorry to Drop This on You, it’s clear that Slack are completely aware of their own contrived histrionics, even though they act like they aren’t. They firmly grasp the irony of being a world-weary 22-year-old and yet can’t do anything about it but laugh.
Slack may be sarcastic and ironic, but they never make the joke at the expense of their audience. Instead, they allow their own shortcomings to be the joke. It is the sort of charming self-loathing that endures. Like a song that goes on too long, yet you can’t help but grow to love—a joke Slack indulge often in their live shows—the band’s self-deprecating humor draws you in for repeated doses. The eight songs on this release clock in at 1 second under 26 minutes, making for an enjoyable almost-half-hour that begs for repeat listenings.
The plain fact is, Slack do have Style—with a capital S. They may not swagger like the Stones, but then, anyone who does these days is gonna end up looking more stupid than stylish. No, their sense of style has way more to do with The Ramones—who recognized that you actually can look damn stylish by playing kinda dumb. Slack’s jaded lyrics, their dramatic pauses, and their corny, corny between-song banter are all a part of the Slack Style. So put on your Levis and Chuck Taylors and get ready to rock.