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The Society of Rockets | Where The Grass Grows Black (Underpop)
Taking pity on journalists everywhere, San Francisco-based The Society of Rockets define their sound as "homegrown 20th Century cosmic blooze", a tidy encap-sulation that'll both aid lazy scribes and act as a sturdy defence against accusations that the band are ostensibly following a much-trodden path for most of this second album. After all, "blooze-men" aren't known for their experimentalism and diversity. Debut 'Sunset Homes' can now be seen as a bridge between the Society's new-found spunky swagger of 'Where The Grass Grows Black' and their previous incarnation as the sprightly but less heavy-duty Shimmer Kids Underpop Association.
Tangerines & Cigarettes sets out their stall from the get-go, a no-holds-barred boogie romp, à la The Stones' Rip This Joint, complete with bursts of Southern sax. Joshua Babcock's pop/rock vocal stylings are pitched somewhere between fellow SF pop-smith Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish) and The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, although the set as a whole is closer to the latter's ballsy combo than the kitchen-sink virtuosity of Sturmer's pop maestros. That being said, second track Out In The Evening is a close cousin to that other Jellyfish alumni, the short-lived Imperial Drag, giving another indicator of the West Coast Psych meets Southern Rock milieu that the Society have set up camp in.
Respite comes at track six, Suicide Summer, a down-beat waltz with its hopeless refrain of "you know it don't matter no more" and gospel-tinged vocal harmonies. Riffs are then firmly back on the menu with album highlight End of the Line, all stabbing staccato guitar and a high-spirited vocal from Babcock. The trippy vocal effects can't save I'm Gonna Smile from filler status, however, an uninspired romp best used as a rehearsal warm-up, and the penultimate The Longest Mile You'll Ever Walk similarly drags the quality down, a bland, thankfully brief interlude before the significantly more ambitious Old Glory draws the record to a close in epic if flawed style. While the track isn't musically adventurous enough to excuse its eleven-minute duration (uninspired instrumental breaks and a repeated 'chorus' of "no mercy, old glory" are perhaps less irksome in a live environment), you can't doubt the sincerity of the performance.
Cranked up loud and with the right chemistry in the bloodstream (my clean-living ways probably don't tally with its creators' target audience), 'Where The Grass Grows Black' will work wonders on a lost weekend.

Matt Dornan
April 2006