Rough Trade/Remote Control
New York’s favourite post-punks Parquet Courts return with Wide Awake!, a release that forgoes the more melodic approach of their previous album and trades it in for sheer energy. Under the guidance of big time producer Danger Mouse the grooves are chunkier, the bass more intricate and driving, and the delivery angrier.
The songs on Wide Awake! have some serious rhythmic heft. Opener Total Football sets the score, alternating between a heavy power chord riff and a speedy rolling attack underpinned by a boisterous multi-note bass riff. This is followed by Violence which features an entrancing lockstep groove featuring electric piano and G Funk synths. That final triumphant keyboard solo will make you wonder if Ray Manzarek has risen from the grave.
Throughout the album, Parquet Courts show that they’ve expanded their musical lexicon – call this their new wave album if you will. Fun single Wide Awake! is a crowd-pleasing funky romp. Before the Water Gets Too High is an atmospheric gem, drenched in surf rock reverb. Death Will Bring Change is a 60s chamber rock piece, its sombre lyrics a perfect fit. And highlight Back to Earth sees Parquet Courts sounding like never before – a cross between Nick Cave and Johnny Cash over an almost trip hop backing.
Lyrically the band is in top form – the songs here are no longer cynical and droll so much as they are dryly furious, lashing out at the nihilistic conformism that seems to underpin America today. It’s best summed up in Andrew Savage’s lyric on 90s throwback Tenderness: “I cower at the thought of other people’s expectations and yet still/ I owe my mind to them.” There is a lot to unpack here.
The album doesn’t hit its mark on all fronts. The songwriting can be patchy at times, with the vocals sometimes playing second fiddle to the instrumentals. The aforementioned Total Football finds the band trying to jam a few too many lyrical ideas in at once, and the frantic proclamations on Violence also get a bit grating. The trio of NYC Observation, Normalization and Extinction are all fairly rote exercises in punk stylistics. All three are lyrical delights and a reminder that Parquet Courts are still a punk band at heart, but we could have easily done with just the one.
Despite some missteps, Parquet Courts have made a massive step forward while staying true to their roots. With an updated sound, bigger variety and an even sharper observational wit, Wide Awake! sees Parquet Courts asserting themselves as one of the most vital rock outfits today.