Tribes’ “Baby”

There’s a word to describe “Baby”: generic.

Grafton Tanner

out of 10

January 16, 2012

I honestly had no idea bands like Tribes still existed.

Tribes is a Brit-rock band from Camden that lists R.E.M., Nirvana, and Pavement as their biggest influences. So yeah, with a name like Tribes and those three pathfinders as their starting points, I couldn’t help but prepare for something raw. Instead, Tribes gives the world Baby, an album that stands about as far away as possible from anything those aforementioned rock auteurs produced in their respective heydays. Baby is a plastic, radio-friendly, gleaming album that delivers rock in its most clichéd and devastating form, and because of this debut, they have done nothing for the rock world but set it back about a hundred miles. It would be easy to ignore something like Baby, yet they’ve inked a deal with Island Records and are touring support for the NME Awards Tour for this year. Not to mention, NME’s glowing review doesn’t hurt for a bunch of good boys from England trying to bring that old rock sound back. Fact is, Tribes is an up-and-coming entity that’s making some waves in the rock arena, and help us all if they continue to rise.

There’s a word to describe Baby: generic. Not stale, not bloodless (this album bursts with young vitality and bravado). Lead singer Johnny Lloyd is a gifted vocalist, that’s for sure. His classic rock yelp allows him to dabble in the upper register, and it definitely has all the swagger and sex appeal of an early Chris Cornell. But that’s about all his voice has to offer: manufactured sexiness spouting off asinine lyrics over generically distorted guitars and drums. I don’t even know where to begin with lyrics here. Do I start with failed similes (“Just let go and let your body do the work/ Like an angel made of stone to dust.”), or how about words that should never, ever be sung in a song (“She said,/ Are you healthy?/ Do my pheromones make you happy?”). Baby overflows with lyrical moments that are crafted for epic singalongs, and that is about all they’re good for. But every so often, Lloyd yelps something so laughably awkward and stilted, it seems like a joke.

Take the lead single from this album: “Sappho.” It’s an extended metaphor detailing a wild woman named, you guessed it, Sappho. It’s also nauseatingly elementary. One of these dudes glazed over a snippet from Sappho in his CLAS 1100 (Intro to Classics) course, ran to the practice space with a fresh sixer, and wrote a snappy little ditty with the band. I can almost see the guys gawking over their cleverness. Give me a break.

The lyrics and structures of Tribes’ songs are so definably pop-influenced, you can almost chart them on a graph. “Halfway Home” sounds like a grossly manufactured high school anthem spat out by the studio dinosaurs in Nashville. Switch the finely tuned electric sixstrings for some twang, and we’ve got a country hit. Therein lies the problem. Faux-emotional lyrics and distorted guitars do not a decent song make.

There’s a lot of focus on lyrics here mainly because the music itself can be summed up quite succinctly. Tribes specializes in an appalling form of classic rock, the kind that emphasizes the most severe worn out rock conventions. Every sound is over-processed; every note is in its right place. Halfway through, I found myself begging for something noisy or for a bass drum hit to be a hair off time. Tribes makes no mistakes at the computer. Everything is too clean, and that’s the major problem.

Ok ok, this is good time music⎯music made solely to jam at a show with your closest friends, swooning over the drummer, likely inebriated. They’re not trying to be rock saviors. Why knock ‘em?

Because rock like this can’t exist anymore. We’ve all heard Tribes in every possible iteration imaginable. Rock bands like Tribes can’t spar with the likes of The Men or Girls or Crystal Stilts when the majority of the populace clamors for the rush of the bass drop. They only hold rock back in an age where rock has been given the middle seat all the way back in coach. A record deal? Some decent press? Sure, but I don’t buy it.