In December 2010 I received an email from Black Biscuit – a band formed by a couple of guys who’ve been playing hockey together and making music since high school. They’d discovered REAL GONE via my rather negative, overtly opinionated Quakers On Probation review and asked if I’d mind giving their album a similarly honest appraisal. The lightweight tone of their message suggested they weren’t a completely serious band, and a visit to their MySpace page where they claim that the band was a result of “numerous hockey-related head injuries of the three frontmen” helped confirm my theory.
There’s a difference between being a joke/novelty band and just not taking things seriously, though, as ‘Blueline’ proves. Granted, there are a couple of songs which were possibly written to amuse, but most of the album is made up of alt-rock tunes, played too slowly and – in some cases – very badly.
‘Surfin’ in Afghanistan’ is their most obvious attempt at writing amusing material. It employs a rudimentary surf rock musical motif, against which a croony vocal tells a tale of surfing disappointment, leading to being tied up by extremists. Although it’s easy for the listener to understand what Black Biscuit are attempting here, it’s not something you’d listen to more than a couple of times. ‘Robbie The Robot’ sounds like a bad impersonation of early Soul Asylum, with additional annoying croony vocals thrown in for good measure. Not that entertaining to start with, and after a couple of spins, once again, it’s hard to imagine anyone coming back for more. ‘Don’t Touch My Cigarettes’ is an ode to never giving up smoking, delivered in an early J. Geils Band style. Its simplicity makes it one of the album’s better numbers, but Black Biscuit lack the energy of those they’re attempting to emulate.
Due to a lack of musical sharpness, most of Black Biscuit’s material completely misses the mark. ‘Gun For Hire’ is sludgy with a tuneless vocal and an even worse guitar solo (although I suspect this was tuneless on purpose). It’s obvious where the hook is, but the vocal style makes the song unlistenable. The country rock vibe of ‘Suburbs’ has the feel of a Cowboy Mouth cast-off…but only if that great band got hit on the head and forgot how to write anything melodic. If there’s anything to be learnt here it’s that three part harmonies shouldn’t be attempted by non-singers. ‘Say Goodbye’ is better, but Black Biscuit don’t really deserve any credit, since it’s memorable parts are a total rip off of The Beatles’ ‘No Reply’, twisting it into something which sounds like a bad wedding band along the way (with an appalling lead vocal to boot).
During ‘With You’, Johnny Maxwell breaks into a decent bass solo. However, it’s stuck in the middle of a rather busy number which melds a Minneapolis style alt-rock sound with a slightly garage feel, and as such, that bass work feels a little out of place. It’s one of the only moments where this album manages to claw its way out of musical despair, and for that, I’m briefly thankful. Maxwell is clearly the only band member with any real musical ability.
Sadly, the bulk of Black Biscuit’s songs are either middling or forgettable. Even their fun stuff isn’t too much fun. Presented with this mish-mash of demo-quality recordings and half-baked ideas, I don’t really know what the band was thinking. Simply put, ‘Blueline’ is a bad record. I hope their collective hockey skills fare better than this.