INDONESIAN JUNK – Stars In The Night

Indonesian Junk’s self-titled 2016 debut celebrated everything that was trashy about late 70s power pop and slightly glammy punk-pop. Huge cues from the CBGBs scene informed the bulk of the music, which was potentially enjoyable in a fairly chaotic way…provided, that is, the band kept to the upbeat. The slower numbers didn’t always fare so well and on top of that, frontman Daniel James’s drawling vocals were the very pinnacle of acquired taste. In short, then, despite glimmers of something, it was an album that could – and should – have been so much better. [A full review can be read here.]

Early indications from the A-side of the pre-release single for this second LP suggested that ‘Stars In The Night’ would be a definite improvement. The opening track ‘I Would Never Treat You Like That’, too, indicates a sharper approach to almost everything. The combination of hard but melodic punk-pop guitar lines and an early 80s power pop melody often recalls things you always loved about Real Kids and Holly & The Italians, and with the whole band pulling in the same direction, this very much gets across the feeling of an act with a great live sound. In addition, he main chorus hook is so dumb it’s positively infectious. Yes, James still has a somewhat jarring voice, but even that seems to have found more of a natural feel over the intervening year. Instead of merely drawling, he now drawls in the manner of a classic 70s US punk star, with the faster delivery more than a bit inspired by the late, great Joey Ramone. So, then, first impressions are all excellent.

Lead single, the aforementioned ‘I’ll Run Away’, comes on like a powerhouse of glammy rock ‘n’ roll. As if taking a drunken ramble through the key points of the New York Dolls back-cat, Daniel offers a snarly, snotty near spoken vocal that takes inspiration from David Johanssen and the late Darby Crash. This is well judged and a compliment to the garage rock backdrop, especially given that it sounds like everyone could come off the rails at any time. The surprisingly long duration of the track means he starts to flag a little towards the end, but musically there’s been much to love, especially with the inclusion of a double length, high octane guitar solo that could’ve been ripped from an old Johnny Thunders LP. A bit slower and offering a cheeky glam melody, ‘Why Did I Call You’ allows Johnny Cyanide an opportunity to step up to the plate with a rattling lead bass, under which heavy rhythm guitars drop into their favoured CBGB’s homage. Another rock ‘n’ roll solo provides a highlight, especially with a touch of Watts factored in…and all the while Daniel holds court with a simple but familiar tale of a broken relationship. Much like the opener, his vocal limitations are evident, but mumbling his way through another old-school hook, the fun and energy within the band really comes across in a way that the debut never really managed.

For more retro glam-punk thrills, ‘Tonight’ blends a love for Hanoi Rocks and New York Dolls, resulting in a drum heavy stomper, a tune made for cranking in your car – a bit like hearing parts of Jetboy’s late 80s debut retooled to fit parts of Gilby Clarke’s cult classic ‘Porn Shop Guitars’. It’s a number that starts with intent and doesn’t really shift from its initial melody, but at the same time, it thankfully never lets up, showing off the band’s best upbeat traits. The vocals are a bit…wayward, but every effort has been made to keep the music sympathetic to that. If you’ve liked anything on offer here so far, this could even become a favourite in time, especially since it comes loaded with a cool power pop-ish chorus. In many ways, at this crucial point, this track represents everything The Junk have been working towards. It’s a pleasure to hear them delivering something with genuine potential.

A screaming, off-kilter affair, ‘Nosferatu’ mixes a swinging rhythm and sneering vocal that cheekily shifts the balance towards something more sinister. The rock ‘n’ roll elements of the main melody are unashamedly old-style, while the confrontational howler of a chorus could be culled from the shameless lo-fi garage rock roots of ‘Psycho Head Blow Out’ by White Zombie. The jury’s out as to whether this is deliberate junk (no pun intended), or perhaps carefree trash that luckily fits the album well, but it’s got something… ‘Slow Down’, meanwhile, opts for bouncy and oddly rousing trashy rock and sounds like Joey Ramone fronting Watts. The mismatch between music and vocals takes a while to settle in, but once it does, the simple riff bleeds out more than enough garage rock fun, while ‘Turn To Stone’ sounds like a Flamin’ Groovies demo with a live sounding drum kit and wobbly guide vocal. There’s a great hook desperately trying to fight its way out of a performance that sounds like a garage rehearsal; very much a warts ‘n’ all performance, it isn’t as good as the best tunes on this record, but is by no means the worst. That dubious honour would go to ‘Stars’ – a track that sounds like an incredibly bad rendition of something from Tom Petty’s second LP, ‘You’re Gonna Get It’. An unwelcome reminder of the debut LP, the vocals grumble and drawl in an unsure way, while the music sounds like a band in a rehearsal space. A definite skipper… ‘Lorelei’ is better, but not up there with the best. Cyanide takes another opportunity to wheel out a walking bassline on a tune that could be one of the drunken fillers on The Replacements’ ‘Hootenanny’ and the rest of the band fall in behind, with indifferent results. Again, there’s an old New York heart pumping beneath the surface and by the time the band reaches a gloriously sloppy guitar solo, it’s clear they’re having a great time…and they probably don’t care if everybody else is or not!

The album closes with ‘On The Run’, a semi-acoustic bar-room ballad that is an obvious nod to Mick Taylor era Rolling Stones and The Replacements. The live drum sound is impressive; the loud guitars throughout the track are a great example of an unfussy approach to the classic rock style and the occasional lead is joyously sloppy. The cracked vocals are hard to take at times, but even then, there’s something within Daniel’s wantonly ugly performance that suggests a man on the edge, trying not to let the barman spot the tears falling into his half-empty whiskey glass. In lots of ways, the album really would have benefit from a rousing, carefree rocker, but there’s no way this track would have fit anywhere else without affecting the overall momentum in a huge way.

After the near-car crash of the debut, the loveable trashiness of (most of) ‘Stars In The Night’ doesn’t so much represent an important (and frankly necessary) step forward for Indonesian Junk, but a sizeable leap. For those who just want tunes they can crank in a classic retro style and aren’t always so worried about vocal clarity, this comes recommended. Obviously, it’s not a perfect record, but perfection so obviously isn’t what these guys were aiming for…but it’s a real pleasure to experience such an improvement this second time around.

October 2017