The Orwells - Terrible Human Beings (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
CHICAGO’S garage rock specialists The Orwells have delivered their most mature collection of songs to date in Terrible Human Beings, which nevertheless still retains their energetic approach.
Where some earlier LPs did tend to stick to one rigid lo-fi formula, however, this new album mixes things up a lot more to generate a body of work that could qualify as their most accessible, and mainstream, yet.
They’re also not afraid to blatantly nod to their references, as on one former single, Black Francis, which has to rate as one of the most obvious tributes ever. Black Francis is, of course, the lead singer of legendary punk rock act Pixies, so it should come as no surprise that this track, in particular, sound-checks classic Pixies with gleeful abandon. Fortunately, it’s one of the highlights.
Conversely, another highlight, Ring Pop, thrives on the ramshackle garage rock sound that is their signature, hitting some hedonistic highs in both the wailing guitars and shouty vocals. It’s a gritty form of exhilaration that the band has long specialised in… akin to listening to bands like The Hives at times.
But it’s also evidence of how – at their best – they can crank up the volume without losing sight of the melodicism needed to guarantee broader appeal.
Similarly, Last Call (Go Home) has an instant likeability in the way that it trades slick harmonies with garage-infused guitar riffs, even going so far as to allow the siren-like wail of the guitars to reverberate on their own from time to time. They like their guitars and indulge them whenever possible.
Further evidence of this can be found in final track, Double Feature, a near-seven minute epic that really allows the guitars room to unwind and do some interesting, often thrilling things. It’s another example of the greater maturity in their song-writing, allowing songs to extend themselves rather than curtailing them to two or three minute frenetic blasts (something that the occasional track, like Buddy, does still fall victim to).
Mario Cuomo’s vocals exercise more restraint at times, too. On the aforementioned Last Call, there’s greater restraint, which helps the track to break out and offer crossover potential, while on another favourite – the opening song and former single They Put A Body In The Bayou – there’s a tremendous sense of the retro that, again, nods to some of the band’s inspirations while retaining the band’s own identity.
They Put A Body In The Bayou is a deliciously dark offering, befitting some Twin Peaks meets True Detective-style crime drama, complete with gloriously reverb heavy guitar riffs. The chorus is arguably the best they’ve delivered and the out and out pick for album favourite.
And then there’s Hippie Soldier which, as its name suggests, adopts a somewhat more hazy influence… a psychedelic throwback to the drug-induced days of the ’60s and ’70s, which throws around harmonious “sha la la la“s with giddy, sing-along abandon (complete with child-like backing harmonies). The chorus is big and gaudy, though, before dropping back down to the toe-tapping build-ups. There’s even traces of Bowie in there.
Recorded over the course of a month at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, Terrible Human Beings was produced by Jim Abbiss (Artic Monkeys, Adele), with whom The Orwells had worked on a couple of Disgraceland’s best tunes. It’s clearly a match made in garage rock heaven for this particular outfit, for with Terrible Human Beings they’ve delivered a set of ‘mutilated pop songs’ that rate among their best.
Watch the video for They Put A Body In The Bayou
Download picks: They Put A Body In The Bayou, Black Francis, Vacation, Ring Pop, Last Call (Go Home), Hippie Soldier, Double Feature