Whatever happened to rock and roll being dangerous? Wasn’t there a time when electric guitars and long-haired frontmen were supposed to corrupt the youth, bringing about an epoch of sexual promiscuity, drug use, and poor hygiene in their wake? While it may seem like a dated concept now, apparently no one remembered to tell The Orwells.
Leaning heavily on crunchy guitar lines, clever choruses, and an omnipresent AA BB rhyme scheme, Terrible Human Beings is an enjoyable slice of rock revival. Thanks in no small part to the uniquely languid singing style of Mario Cuomo, the subject matter peppered throughout The Orwells’ sophomore release (from masturbation, to mass slaughter, to a host of other things you shouldn’t bring up with grandma) is fun where it could just as easily be uncomfortable. While songs like “Buddy” and “Black Francis” highlight Cuomo’s penchant for sounding sassy without sounding snide, others such as “Ring Pop” and “Double Feature” give ample room for guitarist Dominic Corso to show off. The sum total is a well-balanced tracklist that does much to showcase the members’ respective strong points, despite getting fairly predictable by the album’s end.
Staying true to the snot-rock motif they’ve established, Terrible Human Beings also finds The Orwells throwing elements of blues and honky-tonk into the mix, though they avoid committing to either sound. On opening track “They Put a Body In the Bayou” and later on in “Creatures”, Cuomo adopts his best drawl while the Brinner brothers (on bass and drums respectively) offer up their best fat-back beats. The result is cheesy at times, sounding as if the band spent too much time listening to Hank Williams in the tour van, but the undeniable catchiness of the songs makes up for it.
While Terrible Human Beings does a good job of remaining upbeat and punchy throughout its runtime, it does suffer from issues of redundancy. Much of The Orwells’ newest effort sounds so akin to 2014’s Disgraceland that it may well have been recorded three years ago and locked in cold storage. Plus, when new ideas do shine through on Terrible Human Beings, they’re tragically underdeveloped. “Body Reprise”, the shortest song on the album at only a minute and fourteen seconds long, is also the most sonically engaging. A spacey and psychedelic trip, “Body Reprise” samples soundbites from a host of other songs off of Terrible Human Beings and drenches them in reverb, opening up a totally unexpected wormhole through the record. Although album producer Jim Abiss does a solid job at keeping the tracklist tight, it would be easy to strip songs like “Fry” and “M.A.D.” off the album if it meant providing more room for similarly fresh sounds.
That said, a lack of variety and some hokey attempts at playing the blues doesn’t prevent Terrible Human Beings from being a solid return for The Orwells, and nascent listeners will no doubt find themselves corrupted by the group’s obvious talent.
by Elijah Teed