review - 16.06.2011 10:01

Album number 12. Verdict: still rocking.

Four-man band STRAIGHTENER don't ever seem to take any time off. Almost 11 years after they first began releasing their infectious punk rock and pop concoctions, they have managed to churn out an impressive 12 albums in between numerous gigs and tours. The most recent is STOUT, released in January 2011.

They never disappoint with great guitar intros. First track VANISH is a great example of this, and it gets you in the mood for the rest of the album. Very simple strummed chords from a single guitar start things off, which is joined by an equally, almost ridiculously, simple bass line. It leaves you expecting the explosion of sound to burst onto the scene, and of course it does: the lead guitar and drums both oblige on this front. The vocal melody is also, on the face of it, nothing really special. It's not especially clever or complicated and could be sung by any average Joe. But having said all of this, VANISH is luckily more than the sum of its parts. Loud and brash and punky, it is extraordinarily catchy and it's easy to latch onto the energy of it all. It also has a fantastic racing guitar riff in the chorus which will make many non-guitarists want to take it up just for the challenge of mashing out the tune.

Fans will probably prick up their ears in recognition of BERSERKER TUNE - it is the speedier version of the 2006 song previously released as a single and featured on album LINEAR. Whilst the previous incarnation was much slower and almost moody, this new version has been given an adrenaline shot. Belted out more ferociously by vocalist Horie Atsushi, it sounds like a younger, more energetic sibling whilst retaining the Middle Eastern type chord progressions that made it interesting in the original. A nice reincarnation of an older track.

The crash of rock instruments is plentiful in the majority of tracks here, such as with SING, A SONG THROUGH WORLD, PLAY THE STAR GUITAR and BIRTHDAY. They have more of their older sound, with emphasis on the alt and indie rock and less of the pop. Guitarist Ooyama Jun never fails to deliver some great melodies and riffs in all of the tracks. Drummer Nakayama Shinpei also impresses, especially in the furious pounding he provides in BIRTHDAY. They also, as is often the case in STRAIGHTENER music, have plenty of English. Horie's efforts are always admirable, but sadly pretty much as indistinct now as they were back when the band began.

Some of the lighter pop-rock style that they've used more recently appears in the cheerful FREEZING. What some may describe as a "Brit-rock" sound along the lines of Athlete and Snow Patrol seems to have influenced CLARITY: there's the quiet, stripped down intro; the gradual introduction of instruments; grand build up to the chorus; deep, rumbling bass; emotional synth strings in the token quiet bridge. The final chorus culminates in all instruments joining in to create the climactic soundtrack to a tear-jerking season finale of some hot US drama. Put basically, the sound produced is effective but a little too cliche.

A surprisingly upbeat and disco beat-infused ending to the album comes in the form of TODAY. Hinata Hidekazu's bass reels off the aforementioned funky bass line while Nakayama puts his drums, particularly the cymbals, to a great deal of work. Horie flexes his vocal chords with the impressive sustained notes when he sings "Today..." in the likeable chorus. Similar in vibe to FREEZING, it makes for a positive ending even if it is more funk than punk.

STOUT is packed full of attitude and the punk rock that the band produced in spades back in their early days, except minus the screaming that used to feature occasionally. This fact will please those who enjoyed that older sound more. Because of this it has less of the deeper and more emotional compositions that made their previous album, CREATURES, so engaging and varied. Even so, this release is raucous, enjoyable and great for simply rocking out to.
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