19 March 2012
by Tomas Doyle
Ah ha! Here it is then, “The Shape Of Punk To Come”. These four young lads from sunny Royal Leamington Spa known collectively as Sharks are being touted in some quarters as the bright young things of UK punk rock, but can their first full-length, No Gods, really ever hope live up to the weight of expectation that crowds their youthful shoulders?
Well, their faces certainly fit, and they keep saying the right things, right down to the de rigeur hipster claim of being influenced by the works of Charles Bukowski – a claim which begs the question: what the pockmarked outsider Bukowski would make of the jolly handsome men in Sharks (or more pertinently, how long the fight would last)? They also keep telling us in interviews that Leamington Spa is a boring old town where nothing much happens and that they are the voices of disaffected suburban youth. Conveniently neglected is the fact that the town actually has a thriving punk community which has in the last few years hosted everyone from Latterman to Off With Their Heads to Lemuria. Then again, what would you expect from a band who seemed to be plucked from obscurity and transplanted onto tours supporting everyone from The Gaslight Anthem to Gallows.
Still, gaining recognition quickly and grasping it with both hands is not a crime and nor is having a nice haircut, and anyone who thinks it is needs to re-asses their outlook. What does grate (and grate heavily) is a feeling of insincerity, even artificiality and herein lies the crux of the problem with No Gods. The joke in the old days of Sharks was that they were a Clash covers band in Topshop clothes, and whilst their blatant revisionist tendencies have died down a little here there is an overwhelming sense that the band are trying to sell us something that actually, deep down, they are not. Lyrically everything is pretty tame, songs about “posters on walls, song lyrics and dreams” are about as well worn as it is possible to get whilst the “Hey Rudy Rudy” chorus of ‘Arcane Effigies’ feels like a cynical evocation of punks yesteryear rather than something organic (the hopelessly over the top This Is England vibes of the songs video truly seals the deal in that respect). It is deeply baffling why a band would work so hard at convincing you of the authenticity of something which is so patently a construct.
Watch the video to ‘Arcane Effigies’ by Sharks:
It is a record lacking in cutting edge, surprisingly poppy throughout, incredibly apt for radio and with one eye firmly on the mainstream – but if you are a punk fan why you would listen to this over the latest records from Apologies I Have None, Great Cynics, Above Them or even The Menzingers, is frankly anyone’s guess. It’s predominantly mid-paced, which is fine, but there is little sense of rise and fall even less by way of moments of sincere and overt emotion. The feeling that Sharks have been moulded and designed by those behind the scenes genuinely detracts from an album which feels baseless, not sharpened by weeks playing local toilet circuits but made complacent from stints in theatres and label showcases.
Yet the worst thing about No Gods, the very worst, most infuriating thing about Sharks’ debut album is that as it goes on it becomes apparent that there is a very good band waiting to get out. There are glimpses of stuff here which is powerful and precise, as well as deft and moving. James Mattock’s voice is exemplary, finding a middle ground between Matt Skiba’s rasp and Morrissey’s lilt that make it a fine focal point. When they do hit their song writing stride they are capable of blasts of wistful melancholia of the highest order, ‘Patient Spider’ in particular is a prime example (albeit a lyrically overwrought one) of what these lads can really do.
Listen to nine of the eleven tracks from No Gods by Sharks:
From an artistic point of view Sharks need to stop thinking about what makes them an appealing prospect to the masses and more about what will produce albums of enduring quality. If they could transcribe the component parts which they evidently do have in place into something with a bit more power, depth and integrity then they will be onto something. As it is this is a record which will likely appeal to those with a skewed view of Britishness that seems to be Sharks’ touchstone in terms of image (it comes as little surprise that the band are well received Stateside where they have spent plenty of time). For the rest of us who realise that Shane Meadows makes films not documentaries, the whole thing will continue to ring a little hollow. The Shape of Punk to Come? Not yet unfortunately.
Sounds Like: The Clash, Alkaline Trio.
Standout Tracks: Patient Spider, ‘Til the Wonders Rise.