Have I ever mentioned that I love Walking Papers? Essentially the work of Jeff Angell and Barrett Martin, their debut album was a winner from the first song to the last. It featured contributions from Angell’s Missionary Position bandmate Benjamin Anderson, ex-Gunner Duff McKagen, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Anderson and Duff became permanent fixtures, of course – touring and recording album number two.
Unfortunately, and perhaps as a result of that Guns N’ Roses tour, the band are on a hiatus. Bah. Barrett Martin has enough projects to keep him busy, so Jeff Angell and Benjamin Anderson have recruited Joshua Font of Angell’s Post Stardom Depression for their latest project.
The result? Well, Jeff Angell’s Staticland is a strange one. Mostly filled with rolling and tumbling barroom rockers, but having some mainstream hooks, sweet melodies, and sing-along moments, the album sorta feels more like a pulling together of recordings. There are some dirty blues rhythms, smoking solos, rolling drum patterns, driving bass lines and, as I’ve come to expect from Angell, knockout lines. But, as much as the album has grown on me over the last several weeks, I can’t help but feel a bit of a disconnect between the first half of the album and the second. Perhaps it’s just a handful of tracks too long?
When the album’s good it’s really good. Opener Everything Is Wrong moans like a winter storm and is so gritty that it sounds like Angell’s guitar strings haven’t been changed in quite sometime! Band-Aid On A Bullet Hole floors me each time. All drums and bass and rolling and tumbling, it’s a right moody bastard. Angell and Anderson start to light it up … the rhythm and the guitar signature hypnotic. It rocks and contains a helluva guitar solo and some of those lines that Angell has a habit of delivering (“I fed the horses fallen apples through a break I found in the barbed wire. In their eyes I saw a death and in their warm breath I felt what was a fire”). Bam! Knocked out cold.
As well as some revivalist rock n’ roll (more Rival Sons than Black Keys) during the likes of Never Look Back and Tomorrow’s Chore, there’s a sprinkle of New Orleans shuffle during Nola, which I absolutely love. Again, Angell’s on form with his delivery – his tone conversational and throw-away and his phrasing is brilliant when he spits “you’re on a long list of let downs, you no class ass clown” and “you still have all your fingers, so I guess you’re doing all right. But you look just like the suburbs on an average, ordinary Saturday night”
Some would point to the swirling guitars and atmospherics on Staticland (particularly on High Score) and think “reminds me of U2” and I reckon I’d be a fool to deny it. Though I would counter that the influence in the grooves is instead from Some Girls, Emotional Rescue, and Tattoo You. Besides, when they nail that vibe like they do on The Edge (with all its galloping disco awesomeness) and High Score, I’d argue that there’s an urgency that you just wouldn’t find in a post-Achtung Baby U2 album.
Check out the video for High Score. There’s the big U2 vibes I mentioned previously, but but this swirling and distorted vision of Staticland is as clear a view as you’ll find. Like a last broadcast that just can’t be placed. “Let’s leave everything behind and ride into the undefined. I made up my mind, and if you’re so inclined, I need a witness”.
Elsewhere, Phantom Limb is a big crunching monster, coming on like something from Chinese Democracy before settling into a welcoming chorus. The World’s Gonna Win is an incredible ode to fathers who don’t want to see their girls grow up and bringing home a young lad, and I’ll Find You is worthy of a mention, too. It’s the kind of track you already know and while it does have a bit of U2 about it, there’s probably more Springsteen and Petty-isms. A tale of escape with typical Angell phrasing.
As I listen and write, I reckon that this one has landed another one of those punches that leaves me reeling. Freak and The Cure Or The Curse are the end of album highlights, with some brooding vibes, guitar lines and the likes that’s worth sticking around for.
While not perfect, Staticland is a dark and brooding record with enough hooks to lure you in time and time again. Each time picking up a new favourite line, chime, note, and wail. Like I just done again tonight.
The album cover is brilliant and top marks for a really nicely put together LP. There’s the sepia-toned knockout on the cover and some really nice looking labels on, wait for it, some even better looking translucent red vinyl. The only downside is that the lyrics for the tracks on the first LP are printed on both inners … you’re on your own for the second slice!