Being hyped, whether its in the traditional music press or on internet blogs or social media, can be a double-edge sword. For every Lady Gaga who has gone on to huge fame and success, there’s a Lana Del Rey who gets all-but crushed when the backlash starts before you’ve even released an album. Currently getting hyped are US bands Alabama Shakes and Haim, but do they live up to it, and can they survive it?
First up, Alabama Shakes, who have at least managed to release an album without the entire internet turning on them. Boys & Girls has even managed some good critical write-ups and plenty of promotion from iTunes to boost their mass appeal. Their selling point is that they’re a good ol’ Southern rock group with a force-of-nature frontwoman called Brittany Howard.
Her vocals have been pitched in with the likes of Janis Joplin, heady praise indeed, but also a potential stumbling block given the total lack of any successful ‘next Janis Joplins’ in the decades since the original left us with so little but so much. However, Howard’s voice is special enough without unhelpful comparisons, and it lifts even the less impressive material on Boys & Girls to a different level.
Like Vintage Trouble before them, Alabama Shakes come with a great live reputation and an astounding lead singer, and similarly don’t quite translate this into a debut album that blows people’s socks off. That’s not to say either are bad albums, but Howard’s voice is certainly the most remarkable thing about Boys & Girls, with the songs mostly quite restrained Southern rock with a lot of soul influences but a decided lack of edge.
My main issue with it is that it sounds a lot more like Kings Of Leon than The Allman Brothers Band, which is probably a wise sales move, but it would have been nice to hear a new band able to take that kind of music into the mainstream without compromising too much of the freedom and spirit of adventure. If Alabama Shakes ever end up singing something as turgid as Sex Is On Fire or Use Somebody, it will have been a disappointing waste of a talent as bright as Howard’s seems to be.
And then we have Haim. Not named after late actor Corey Haim, it’s the surname of the three sisters who make up the band, and they come with quite a reputation already, not least the frequent ringing endorsements they get from Ryan Adams on Twitter. Their musical heritage is a folky background, with flavours of 70s FM rock and 90s R’n’B, and all of those play out in their songs, as showcased by the free debut EP you can download from their website.
It’s tough to judge a band too much from just a three-song free EP, but there’s so much potential on display from these sisters that it’s hard not to yearn for a full album release in the near future. While the R’n’B influences are what has been bigged up, the most obvious influence in Forever seems to be Fleetwood Mac, with more than a hint of Christine McVie in the vocals. But then there’s Michael Jackson stylings on Better Off. It’s all so confusing.
But you can see the hipsters starting to get wary if Haim continue too far along the path of the Mac. Certainly the three songs on the Forever EP aren’t as edgy or groundbreaking as their reputation so far has suggested. But if you don’t care about ‘edgy’, there’s lots to enjoy and look forward to from both Haim and Alabama Shakes. Hype can be a poisonous thing when it turns sour, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful too, for both bands and music fans. The key is always to listen without prejudice.
- Live: Alabama Shakes Keep It Short And Sweet At The Studio (blogs.villagevoice.com)
- I Ain’t The Same (Alabama Shakes) (earphoneadventures.wordpress.com)