Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Aug/2011
Label: Dew Process
Released after a brief hiatus on the back of the Triple J approved Cruel Guards (2007), Rain on the Humming Wire (2011) treads lightly on mildly symphonic, jaunty alt-pop. For the Melbourne via WA quintet, their fourth album shows a distillation of craft – striving for the quickest points of departure from resilient joy to somber reflections to respite. While the more compelling moments continue to come from a darker place, the album suffers in part from a lyrical broadness and over-simplification of song structure. Rather than forging new ground, the album falls a little too easily between folk, country and alt-rock luminaries rather than transcending them to create an inoffensive, pleasant yet bland album.
…Humming Wire opens with familiar stomped drum hits under chiming bells in ‘Majesty’ – a piano driven ballad about the bleak story of Australian colonisation, Her Majesty and who wore what in the A-List. It’s an upbeat, jubilant ditty comparable to last year’s Hottest 100 winners – only with an Australian accent. Obviously, the role of critics isn’t in reducing art to an intellectual exercise – we genuinely enjoy hearing albums that surprise and excite us in their exploration and creativity (among other things) – but it’s difficult to listen to The Panics most recent effort without hearing a mediocre pastiche. Tracks like ‘Endless Road’ walk with purpose under a four-on-the-floor beat, but it seems to go nowhere. Flourishes of synth-horns, pounding piano and bongo fills adorn high-school poetry but ultimately amount to forgettable tune.
I don’t want to let go
I’ve held all the hands I need to hold
It seems all that I feel
I shared with you in this room was real.
Likewise in ‘Creatures’, a wiry guitar line provides the point of interest and a few melodic licks, but the faux string-section and forced ‘oohs-and-ahs’ leaves the song sounding like a calculated exercise. On rare occasions, tracks like ‘Low on Your Supply’ connect on a more personal level – the vocal harmonies and organ atop a stripped back beat still eventuates into audience participation territory, but leaves the listener with something of substance. ‘Shot Down’ and ‘Not Quite a Home’ provide more toe-tapping moments, but it begs the question – why do The Panics – now into their 10th year together – need to fall back on utter musical simplicity?
Kudos to The Panics for consecutively charting higher with each release – it at least demonstrates a sense of aspiration – and attempting to break into the US and UK is a laudable goal – but sadly, the songs have suffered and …Humming Wire is an occasionally moody, slightly maudlin batch of disaffecting and derivative melancholia.