If awards for humor were given out to rock musicians, Chris Cain and Keith Murray of We Are Scientists would be the first recipients of such an honor. (What other band would dare include a guide called “Rules of Romance” in their album’s liner notes?) Rock stars are constantly being quoted as saying, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” but in the case of We Are Scientists, you definitely get the feeling from their communications with the world (blog entries about horse blankets, silly and self-deprecating Tweets, and faux-cocky Facebook posts) that this band takes those words to heart. In every interview they do, it’s obvious that Cain and Murray are close friends, which no doubt is one of the major keys to their success.
The Scientists split from their label, Virgin, in late 2009 and are now with Masterswan Recordings/Megaforce Distribution. Beyond that, they have also taken a more DIY approach with their forthcoming, highly anticipated third major album, Barbara, produced by long-time collaborator Ariel Rechtstaid. In addition, there was a personnel change: beardy ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows played drums on this album and if the liner notes are to be believed, he is now an official member of the band, even though he hasn’t been seen playing live with Cain and Murray at every one of their gigs this year.
On this outing, the band have eschewed the fanciful synths from Brain Thrust Mastery in favor of the formula that made them indie cult favorites with their first major album With Love and Squalor: incisive lyrics, guitar, bass, and drums. From that description alone, I guessed that fans of the first album would immediately take to this album, whereas those who favored the second would not be as impressed (I fall into the latter). Both “Rules Don’t Stop” and “I Don’t Bite” sound a bit sinister but then turn the corner into classic WAS – melodic, hook-driven melodies with memorable singalong choruses.
These two plus “Nice Guys” and “Jack & Ginger,” the first four songs, are where Barbara shines: the crux of We Are Scientists‘ most successful tunes are immediate, pop melodies with Murray’s frank, funny, and witty lyrics. Check out the funny promo video for “Nice Guys” below; it’s the next single from the album to be released on June 8, just 1 week ahead of the album’s official debut. The low-tech video features humorous but nonsensical captions, Murray’s now-famous red and white Reeboks, and his shenanigans with a scooter around New York City. You can’t help but laugh with these guys.
Then the album turns decidedly darker. “Pittsburgh,” “Ambition,” and “Foreign Kicks” point back to the slower, more stolid “Textbook” of With Love and Squalor and “Ghouls” and “Tonight” of Brain Thrust Mastery; dirge-like, they’re not terribly melodic, and lyrically, they’re not very deep either. “Break It Up” is more upbeat, the sort of track I envision dance instructors who know nothing about the band pick for their class mixtapes for a bouncy, ’80s sound. On a WAS record however, it seems out of place. I’m not complaining though; I’d much rather hear faster tempo songs from this band.
See, the free-wheeling guitars (check out the guitar solo in the bridge) and fun chorus of “Central AC”, the last track on Barbara, lift things way back up and remind you of why you listen to We Are Scientists in the first place. You can imagine them singing this onstage, genuine smiles all around. It’s a good album but it’s noticeably lacking an obvious crowd-pleaser like “The Great Escape” or “Chick Lit,” the kind that fans go crazy over at their shows. That said, the WAS live experience is so unique that even if you aren’t immediately bowled over by this album, go to one of their gigs and prepare to be entertained. And to laugh your head off.
Barbara will be released on June 15 in America on Masterswan Recordings/Megaforce Distribution. Catch the band play these new tunes on their North American tour in July.
01. Rules Don’t Stop
02. I Don’t Bite
03. Nice Guys
04. Jack & Ginger
07. Break It Up
08. Foreign Kicks
09. You Should Learn
10. Central AC
Jul 13 – Middle East / Cambridge, MA
Jul 14 – Bowery Ballroom / New York City
Jul 15 – Johnny Brenda’s / Philadelphia
Jul 16 – Black Cat / Washington, DC
Jul 19 – Horseshoe Tavern / Toronto
Jul 20 – Blind Pig / Ann Arbor, MI
Jul 21 – Bottom Lounge / Chicago
Jul 23 – Larimer Lounge / Denver
Jul 26 – Doug Fir / Portland
Jul 28 – Neumo’s / Seattle
We Are Scientists: website | myspace | Brain Thrust Mastery review | @ Johnny Brenda’s | @ Austin Music Hall | @ Electric Factory | @ Black Cat | MP3 Minute: “Rules Don’t Stop” | We Are Scientists Debut “Nice Guys” Single | Interview with: Chris Cain of We Are Scientists