f the transforming power of rock has been weakened by various sets of pretenders throughout the years, the first half of Icarus Line’s Penance Soiree might just be the antidote. Luckily for those claiming the former, the second side reclaims the mantle of tired and aimless rock from such blindingly overrated acts like, say, Guns ‘n’ Roses. But Icarus rarely look to take on the territory of Guns, instead reveling in fields that Black Flag, Hot Snakes and the Stooges have cultivated.
And as evidenced by the string of stone-cold anthems that grace the opening seven songs here, Icarus Line have learned well the lessons of the past. “Caviar” is a good example: employing a swinging rhythm section overlaid with a squalling guitar attack. Lead singer Joe Cardamone wails along with the guitars, sometimes merging at the end of certain lines to great effect. On this song, in particular, he sounds like a brilliant approximation of a slightly more masculine Perry Farrell, leaving one to wonder whether this might be exactly what Strays could have been.
It’s the nine minute epic “Getting Bright at Night”, though, that is the hinge on which the album swings. It starts slowly, building up steam over its length until a triumphant climax that sees the band emerging from a cacophonic noise section to blisteringly play in unison a punishing riff. It’s obvious, yes. And it’s also the best thing here.
Unfortunately, being the high-point of the album, it’s inclusion as the centerpiece of the album leaves the following six songs acting as a twenty-minute denouement. The group does its best to keep up interest: “White Devil” is all crawling king snake blues, “Meatmaker” is self-conscious repetition and effects processing for its own sake and “Seasick” finds the group indulging in some 4AD-inflected rock replete with what sounds like a drum machine.
But perhaps “Party the Baby Off” encapsulates the second side of the record the best. The song is a two-and-a-half minute rip of the Strokes. The lyrics are much clearer (no self-imposed obfuscation here, Cardamone definitely wants you to know that you need to take off your clothes), but the music acts in the same ways as much of the second side: an Icarus Line take on (fill in the blank). If the original and inspiring Icarus Line take on itself had been continued from the beginning or, better yet, the record had been shortened, we’d have a masterpiece on our hands. As it is, a much better outing than Mono and a brilliant song in “Getting Bright at Night”. Can’t ask for much more than that.