The press release that accompanied my copy of Scanners’ sophomore album, Submarine, is adorned with loving quotes from assorted music critics. Obviously, this sort of thing is routine and generally doesn’t merit highlighting, but there’s one particularly obnoxious quote from NME that I keep returning to. The writer (left unnamed on the press release) asserts, “We need less boring, boring indie boys! Think we need an injection of snarling grrrl voices? Me too! That’s why I’m bloody obsessed with snarling London rawk types Scanners…They’re like all the songs Kim Gordon sings in Sonic Youth, but played by Motorhead at their early-’80s peak. And if that doesn’t sound brilliant to you, perhaps it might be worth slicing off your ears and giving them to someone who deserves them, yeah?”
Now, the writer may be referring to Violence Is Golden, Scanners well-received first album that I have admittedly not heard. Given the album’s title and the quote above’s anxiety-inducing hyper-punctuation and vaguely threatening nature, I’m inclined to believe that maybe Scanners debut effort was just that much of a kick in the ass. However, the gulf between the expectations the NME quote creates and the reality of Scanners second album is pretty severe.
Perhaps it’s not fair to base my disappointment on a prejudice generated by a quote on Scanners’ press release. However, it is their press release. This is an image that Scanners have agreed to sell, that of a vicious indie rock outfit injecting an all too rare dose of unapologetically furious femininity into an all too retrograde scene. So yes, after reading that review and allowing a little guarded excitement enter my cynical heart, I was frustrated to find an album of passably executed, thoroughly inoffensive, dance-infused guitar and synth-pop. This is no Kim Gordon fronting Motorhead (which, I’ll admit, sounds awesome). If anything, I felt as though I was transported back to 2005, when every band sounded like Bloc Party and claimed Gang of Four as a major influence despite sounding more indebted to ‘80’s synth-pop than they cared to admit.
Opener “Jesus Saves,” a title that reeks of self-satisfied cheekiness, sets the tone with its disco-punk rhythm section and ultra-modern synthesizers. It’s catchy enough, cleanly produced and efficiently arranged, but hardly revelatory. That same description is equally apt for the following song, “We Never Close Our Eyes”, and then again for lead single “Salvation.” “Baby Blue” thankfully breaks up the monotony with a more adventurous arrangement. Cleverly built around a hypnotic loop of guitar harmonics, “Baby Blue” cajoles genuine passion out of Daly and company. It’s a song unburdened by melodic stagnation and customary instrumentation, and most importantly, Scanners sound like they actually mean it. Submarine could use more moments like it.
Soon thereafter, Scanners reverts back to pushing style over substance. “Sick Love” opens with some interesting overlapping girl-group vocals (“dum” is the syllable of choice, in case you were wondering), but it’s quickly overrun by the same predictable, angular guitar-rock that largely defines Submarine. Naturally, Scanners move through a few mid-tempo ballads onto the back half of the album, but the band generally keeps the approach homogenous. Then again, it’s hard to complain too much when it’s decently written music played competently. It’s only enough to make you wish Scanners would risk more. Now, if anyone wants to start that Kim Gordon/Motorhead band…