Australian outfit Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is back with their latest four-word album event: Sideways to New Italy. The quartet features three singer-songwriter-guitarists, and their latest is work full of eventful melodies and twisty lyrics, reminiscent in various parts of both Weezer and the Foo Fighters. But Rolling Blackouts fails when it comes to making something that echoes bigger than itself, resonates beyond just a collection of songs. This album didn’t do it for me.
There are some good concepts here: “Beautiful Steven” is supposed to be a love letter from a boy to his childhood best friend, but it doesn’t feel quite saturated enough. It is neither rough nor tender, just vaguely nostalgic: “You disappear again / with Catholic Sally.” Still, I liked this track, as well as the kitschy “Sunglasses at the Wedding”: “you’re freezin’ / in the election season.”
The album also makes the most sense if you think about it as a map of sonic, lyrical, and physical places that Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever has been. The melodies are creative and winding, but the boys should be less afraid of having space at all around their voices; they do best when there is a little bit of silence along with the enormous guitars, as on “She’s There.”
That’s the problem, though: these are just words, without a clear throughline. An album doesn’t have to be a narrative if there is a clarity of voice (like there is on Harry Styles’ Fine Line), but here there are neither. (Although on every kind of record, being able to hear the words is preferable).
That is not to say the boys aren’t talented, even in something more heady like lyric-writing. On “Falling Thunder,” they sing about “liquid crystal stimulation / like a ghost at the service station.” But it seems as though their metaphors and rhymes are often a little too elaborate, a gilding of the lily.
Here, the melodies are good, but the songs still fall flat. They are good at writing lyrics, but the lyrics do not feel satisfactorily cohesive. For once I am criticizing someone for a lack of simplicity! The problem here is not lack of energy or talent or even motivation, but perhaps simply a lack of purpose.
Still, this album was not made for me, although even I can enjoy the darling spoken-word bit in “Second of the First.” It was made for Rolling Blackouts themselves, and for their biggest fans, who must find something delightful in the easy pretension. Music doesn’t always have to be strictly necessary.