a review of the latest album released by Australian rock group Short Stack.
|This is a track by track review I've prepared for the latest Short Stack album This Is Bat Country. No it's not professional, no it's not what one would usually expect to read when looking at reviews, and I really don't care. As opposed to giving the album ratings on over all sound, production quality etc, etc, I've gone ahead and looked at each track separately, and then told you what I didn't like, and in some cases what I did like. I wasn't biased in anyway while writing this review. If I enjoyed a piece of their music, I said so. Also note that a lot of this review was written while listening to the tracks. If I contradict myself, or randomly change my opinion of a song, it's probably because it started off bad and got better, but more likely because it started of good and got bad.
It's a wordy review, so if you can't be bothered reading the whole thing there is a little synopsis at the end, which consists of best song, worst song and overall album rating. Enjoy.
Track 1. Bat Country:
I've listened to bat country three times now, and something rather interesting happened. You see, usually when I listen to certain songs, at first I think they're shit. Then I listen again and think they're okay, and the more I listen to them the more I fall in love. However, with Bat Country, the opposite has happened.
At first, I thought this song was incredible, not because it was particularly outstanding musically, but because it was so different. By different I mean different from the shit quality of music we heard on the debut. It was a stand-outish sort of sound, and you could easily respect a band a made a habit out of incorporating this sort of sound into every song. After first listening to it, naturally I was impressed and my friend and I began telling a fellow short stack hater how good the song was after listening to their first attempt at making a record. We sat this fellow hater down, put on bat country and were consequently embarrassed because it was nowhere near as good as we remembered it being. Why? Simple. When you listen to this song, you'll forget the fact that the three note (not chord, note) riff that makes the song up is boring, you'll forget the fact that there may as well be no bass and you'll forget the fact that the drums are bland and uninteresting. You won't notice how boring the guitar solo is, nor how poor the vocals are, because when you first listen to it, you think about how different it is from their earlier music and commend them from dropping the pop-punk bullshit. However, the more you listen to it, the easier it is to notice the above mentioned flaws.
The verse is sometimes broken by these half-assed 80's western inspired chords, layered heavily with phaser and tremolo, which do add an interesting flavour to the song, but that's all it has to offer. The vocal performance is boring and monotonous, and despite being a cut above his previous efforts, Shaun's guitar solo is less than impressive, and that's putting it politely. However, that's not to say it's the worst song on the album. It's marginally better than every other song they've put out so far, not because it's good, but because it's slightly listenable.
Track 2. The Cross:
It’s funny, because The Cross is only a 36 second intro track to lead into Planets. So I’d love it if someone would explain to me why a 36 second track is ONE OF THE BEST TRACKS ON THE DAMN ALBUM.
Due to the fact that it’s only half a minute in length, there isn’t much to say about it, other than the fact that it lacks Shaun’s shit voice, Webb’s boring drumming and Andy’s bass playing. It’s a piano-only instrumental, and it’s beautiful. Granted, it does follow the melody of planets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Is it a coincidence that it’s a good song, yet lacks most of the bands input? I think not.
Track 3. Planets:
There aren’t many things wrong with planets, but the things that are wrong a probably the most pivotal aspects of the songs. Okay I lied, this song’s a disaster. The first thing that bothers me about Planets is the lyrics. They’re very poorly written. “What planet are you on?” and “are all the lights on?” seem like two completely unrelated questions to me, even given the context of the song. Therefore, every time I hear Diviney ask these two questions one after the other, I get confused. The second thing wrong with this song is the drumming. Andy literally plays the same drum beat throughout the entire song, with the exception of a little snare roll before one of the choruses. What does this mean? It means your beat is boring. Thirdly, the guitar solo is pathetic. It lasts for no longer than seven or so seconds and only includes one lick. Guitar solos should be a collection of various licks, not one that you think sounds a little cool. Finally, his singing, as always, is less than acceptable. It’s not so much that Shaun’s out of pitch, it’s more the fact that his tone sounds terrible, and the words seem to be forced. It is a step up from previous works, considering it relies on more than just four power chords to keep the song afloat, but after everything else that’s wrong with it, it really is too little too late.
Track 4. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Well done Shaun Diviney. I’m not sure whether it’s because he pulled his finger out of his ass, or because he took note of what we were saying, but track four on this album is actually quite a good track. It’s true that the verse only has three chords to it, but there is a key change during the I-can’t-really-tell-but-I-think-it’s-supposed-to-be-the-bridge section of the song. It comes fully equipped with a pretty good bass line and (holy fucking shit) some effective drumming. I really hate Bradie Webb, I think he’s the least talented member in this band, but he did a decent shot with the drum line. They kept a similar style to Bat Country as far as over all sound goes, and after listening to Planets, this song really is quite a nice break from the shit. It’s not perfect, I’m still not a fan of Shaun’s vocals, but the shittiness doesn’t stand out as much in this song. I hope track five’s as good.
Track 5. Werewolves:
Aaaand I was let down. Werewolves is easily one of the worst songs on this album. Why? It sounds like shit. His voice is shocking, the strings sound like they were generated by a cheap MIDI keyboard, and the lyrics are ridiculously stupid. “We’re werewolves, we’re werewolves. Awoo, awoo,” Really, Shaun? Really? Is that supposed to be meaningful? Is it meant to evoke some emotion that’ll make me go “Zawwww a cute song!” because if it is, it doesn’t. You failed miserably here Shaun, and frankly, putting this song right after Afraid of the Dark was a stupid move because it only served to accentuate the shittiness of the track.
Oh, another fun fact, it was a release off the first album. I should have known it would be shit.
Track 6. The Cannons:
18 second introduction to Different Disco. People chanting “This ain’t no god damned disco,” nothing special.
Track 7. We Dance to a Different Disco Honey:
Give my hands a rest; they hurt after typing the stupidly long title of the song. Alright I’m good to go.
My first thought while listening to this song was “I thought this was on Bat Country, not New Black.” Why? Because it sounds exactly the same as every song on their debut album. There a four, maybe five chords used throughout the song, it’s complete with boring bass lines, shit vocals, and cheesy, stereotypical pop-punk bridge riffs. The only difference is for once, Webb’s drumming isn’t too bad and there is a guitar solo in there at the end of the track, but you really need to strain your ears to hear it. When bad song writing collides head on with bad album production, you get a song like We Dance to a Different Disco Honey. Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this track. Its shit in the way we’ve come to believe all Short Stack songs will be. There’s nothing new about it at all.
Track 8. The Mercury:
At first, I thought Mercury would be another introduction track because it was so short. Only a minute in length, this acoustic track does something no other song on the album has done, and that’s make Shaun’s voice sound quite good. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t cringe at the vocals this time around. It’s not as good as Are You Afraid of the Dark, but it’s nowhere near as bad as planets.
Because it’s so short, there really isn’t much to say, but it left me keen to hear what the next song would be like.
Track 9. Heartbreak Made Me a Killer:
Shitty title, but that’s nothing new. It could still be good right? Nope, apparently not. I’m not sure what was worse about this song: the fact that it made me start singing “We dance to a different disco, honey” in my head (which is an issue because, obviously this is –supposed- to be a different song) or the fact that this meant Mercury was a huge let down.
The probably-attempting-to-mimic-queen style shouts of “Heartbreak made me a killer, baby” makes the song almost unbearable, and when coupled with out of place synthesisers, boring bass lines and – surprise, surprise – shit drumming. It was a difficult song to listen to. Dream Theater’s Octavarium felt shorter than this song and that goes for 24 minutes! A fan of short stack themselves described this song perfectly by saying it sounded a bit karaoke-ish to them. That pretty much sums this song up. The guitar solo is a little more impressive than what we’re used to, but it’s lacking in variety and length as usual. There is a bridge-riff that is, once again, typical of shitty pop-punk bands. All in all, it’s not a very good song.
Track 10. Wendy:
Once again, a cleverly placed better than usual song. Shaun did well with writing the guitar from this song. The chords sound good, it’s a calm and refreshing listen after putting up with the shit song before it, and his voice does a good job again. I could actually listen to this song, and as good (relatively) as Afraid of the Dark was, I wouldn’t actually go out of my way to listen to it. Wendy, on the other hand, is much more listenable in my opinion. It has this short drum solo in the middle, which breaks it up a little, and even though it isn’t a very complex song, the instruments complement each other in a way that is rare – and by rare I mean unheard of – in other Short Stack songs.
The guitar solo is short, which usually bothers me but for some reason I think it works rather well with this song. The verse chords are accompanied by a string section, which isn’t over powering, so it works rather well and the last few chords have a couple of guitar licks over the top while he’s singing. With all this in mind, this song did a good job of getting my hopes up for the rest of the album, and in hindsight I wish I heard this song before I heard Bat Country, but what can you do? Let’s hope track 11 is as good.
Track 11. Sweet December:
OH GOD DAMN IT FUCK THIS SONG IS SO GOD DAMNED SHIT. Every time a semi-decent song pops up on this album, Short Stack slaps me in the fact with a big reminder, saying “HEY, REMEMBER THIS SORT OF MUSIC? THE SORT OF MUSIC THAT MADE YOU HATE US IN THE FIRST PLACE? WE STILL PLAY IT!!” Sweet December is an atrocious song which, along with Werewolves, is one of my least favourite on the album. I’m not sure what I hate most about it, the fact that its lyrics suck very hard, the fact that the guitar playing is boring or the fact that Shaun seemed dig up that shitty, forced, typically American pop-punk singer accent he used on the first album. The tone of voice he uses is so forced, it’s almost impossible to enjoy the song at all.
Track 12. Ruby Red:
Only five songs left, thank god. Ruby Red is, well, nothing really. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just there. It doesn’t evoke any emotions of rage, nor does it make me thank the heavens for giving my ears a break.
There really isn’t much to it; it’s pretty boring, but not as boring as something like Werewolves. His voice isn’t shit, but nor is it good. The guitar playing isn’t really important in this song until the end when the piano fades out, and once it’s there it really only follows the piano in the first place. The lyrics aren’t particularly bad, but they’re not terribly bad either. I don’t really know what to say about this song, other might hate it more than I do, but it feels pretty damn empty to me.
Track 13. The Thunder:
It’s a pretty boring drum intro to Jack the Ripper. Enough said.
Track 14. Jack the Ripper:
Remember the live performance of this song at the Sydney opera house? The one that was better than everything we’d heard up to that point, but was still pretty bad? It had the terrible scream, the random bend at the start and the terrible attempt at an apparently improvised guitar solo. Well, the studio version is WORSE. It is so god damned boring. Shaun doesn’t do the scream in it, which might have been shit but it changed the song up a little bit. The guitar solo is non-existent which surprises me, because it sounds like a good song to solo over. The only thing it’s got is that random sort-of Muse sounding bridge bit (and I use that description very VERY VERY loosely). Oh wait, I told a lie, there is a guitar solo there, but guess what? You can’t hear it! Isn’t that a surprise? I’m beginning to think that there really is a proper, full length solo in every song, but it’s been mixed in so poorly that we can’t hear it.
The lyrics in Jack the Ripper haven’t changed since the performance at Sydney, they still suck ass. The only reason I hate this song so much is because I had a negative predisposition towards it after hearing that performance. It’s in a similar situation to Ruby Red, meaning it probably won’t evoke any form of emotion in you at all when you listen to it. So far, the second half of the album is proving to be a huge, but expected disappointment.
Track 15, Sweet Emergency:
This song is similar to Mercury, in that it isn’t really that bad a song, but really is too short. It’s another acoustic track, with some semi-decent guitar in it. The difference between this and Mercury however, is that his voice sounds like shit. He does not sing this song well at all. Instead of getting back up guitarists to play guitar for him when he performs, he should consider hiring singers, and taking care of the guitar work himself.
Sweet Emergency really does draw attention to how terrible the tone of his voice is. The notes sound forced and strained, and it really doesn’t work well at all. The easiest way to describe this song is by calling it bad and leaving it at that.
Track 16. Die young, Stay Pretty:
Wow, it’s another half-good song. By half-good I mean the singing is still shit, but musically it’s better than usual. It relies on a more diverse selection of chords, makes good use of the strings and the drumming seems to work pretty well. However, something about the song is fairly familiar. I can’t pick it, but something makes me think I’ve heard something similar somewhere else. At this stage, it’s not much of an issue, but I know when I hear whatever it reminds me of, I’ll probably get slightly angry.
As stated before, despite there being a slight improvement as far as music goes, his voice takes too much away from the song for me to actually enjoy it.
Track 17. Nothing At All:
What a boring, boring way to end an album. At five minutes in length, it’s one of the longer tracks on the album. Its intro is very boring, consisting of purely strings, and the whole string just screams My Chemical Romance’s the Black Parade. It sounds like it was written by My Chem themselves, and we all know what that means. That right, this song really doesn’t suit Short Stack, or this shitty excuse for a follow up album. It’s too mellow a song to end an album like this on, and by an album like this I mean an album which consisted of mostly more upbeat rock songs. The lyrics are repetitive and when you’re song is five minutes long, repetitive lyrics aren’t going to help you in anyway shape or form.
I kept expecting a guitar solo to leap out of nowhere, but I was constantly disappointed. There were many points in the song where I pictured a change in chords, a little riff or something to that effect, but I was once again disappointed. I think the title of the song is very fitting, because it really does contain Nothing At All.
Best song: Out of the Cross, Are You Afraid of the Dark and Wendy – easily the three best tracks on the album – Wendy is easily my favourite. It’s the only song on the album that I would go out of my way to listen to, and when you have 17 songs on an album, this really isn’t saying much about the overall quality of the music. I like Wendy because it sort of reminds me of the old school rock I grew up listening to whenever my parents would throw random parties.
Worst Song: Sweet December, Heartbreak Made Me a Killer, We Dance to a Different Disco Honey and Werewolves are my least favourite songs. The worst of the lot is easily Werewolves. Most of the other songs were really bad, not just because the musical quality was bad, but because the shittiness was accentuated by being played right after a decent track. Werewolves would have been shit no matter where it was on the album. In fact, if Werewolves had of been played right before one of the other really shit songs I just listed, it would have turned them into a masterpiece.
Overall Album Rating: This is definitely a 4/10 star album. When Shaun said nearly every song had a guitar solo in it, I might have been foolish to expect them to be good solo’s, but the fact is I did and I was disappointed. Sure, there were a couple of standout tracks on the album, but with so many nothing tracks like Ruby Red, and so many blatantly shit tracks like Werewolves, there really wasn’t enough to average it all out. The only people who will enjoy this album are people who already listen to short stack, and while it will attract a few new listeners, it’s nowhere enough to put the haters in their place.