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The Subways:: Young for Eternity (Album Review)

Apparently the people of Detroit spent the last year gearing up for the Super Bowl. This preparation included making room for the red carpet and belatedly inviting Motown acts Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder to perform, but must not have taken the city’s garage rock history into account, because the best Detroit rock album of the past few years has come from the UK. The Subways don’t push any boundaries, but they’ve broken borders and taken the best of what Detroit should have been offering.

Young for Eternity is the record that US labelmates the Von Bondies should have made to follow-up Pawn Shoppe Heart, and the album that the White Stripes should make period, dropping the faux naivete/aristocratic devil facial hair. Most of the trio’s tracks rely on guitars punching you in the face while the drums circle around you, but they occasionally mix a few slower, acoustic-y numbers. If the album structure and general sound remind you of the White Stripes, the aggression level of the band should suggest something else. Vocalist Billy Lunn sounds like Detroit history: angry, crazed, and believing that his rock ‘n’ roll matters.

The Subways do the unlikely by succeeding at putting their own stamp on music that sounds familiar. The album’s standout track, “Rock & Roll Queen” could have been written by any number of garage groups, including the Vines at their finest, and yet it remains unmistakably the Subways’ stomp. The group plays punk music for people who don’t care what “punk” means. I can’t help thinking about beer and spit when I hear the screamed inanity of “Be my, be my, be my little rock ‘n’ roll queen,” and despite/because of that, I can’t help screaming along.

The Subways haven’t perfected their lyrics (see lines like “It’s always raining / And you’re the one to blame”), but neither have they foregone craft in the hopes that rampant rock can carry the performances. Instead they draw their scenes economically—often focusing on loss or desire, but not enough for the cliché to develop—and match musical emoting with lyrical jabs. “I Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say,” for example, uses the title phrase to de-objectify the object of attraction even in a moment of loss.

The album ends with a less than articulate moment, on glorious “Nah nah nah!” and “Oh” syllabic refrains. It’s the wordless sound of despair turning into resistance; following the disappointment of “She Sun,” “Somewhere” hinges on unexpected faith in another before giving way to that struggling voice that can barely express itself, but shouts still. Right now, the only thing that sounds better actually is coming from Detroit, but instead of musicians, it’s just a bunch of dumb Steelers fans. (Review by: Justin Cober-Lake)