No Second Troy – Narcotic (2007)
purchase this album (CD Baby)
Almost since there was such a thing as rock & roll, the people who love it have been split into factions. These days, those divisions are innumerable â€” just take a glance at your satellite radio dial â€” but the first split, and the one I think has always given rock music much of the tension necessary to make it work, is the argument between the labor of artistic craftsmanship and the raw, primal energy of the music. Red-blooded rock enthusiasts are taught to view craft as something to be eyed with suspicion; it’s the fiber in your rock diet, the stuff you’re supposed to accept begrudgingly, not appreciate, except long after the fact, when guys like me write long-winded, overserious articles about stuff we all thought was corny at the time but was actually surprisingly well-written. (And incidentally, we’re running out of artists to give this treatment â€” we’ve already burned through the great-to-good ones, including the Bee Gees, the Carpenters, and McCartney. In fifteen years’ time, we’ll be extolling the virtues of Anne Murray records. Shit.)
It’s an oversimplification of the debate, but you get the idea; it’s this attitude that inspires guys like my Rock & Roll Uncle Rob to lauch into barely provoked, half-hour diatribes about, say, Boston’s “Rock and Roll Band” (“‘Playin’ all the bars, sleepin’ in our cars / And we practiced right on out in the street’? What a bunch of bullshit!”). And it’s why a whole lot of people are going to sneer at No Second Troy’s Narcotic from the first anthemic notes of the leadoff track, “Feint” (download).
I understand this attitude. I even identify with it to a certain extent; I can’t listen to Narcotic without feeling conflicted. All the ingredients in this band’s recipe â€” ringing guitars, soaring vocals, tasteful keyboards, widescreen choruses â€” have long since been boiled down into lowest-common-denominator mush by groups I can’t stand. You’ll catch more than a whiff of Matchbox Twenty in here, for instance, along with the distinct aromas of Coldplay, U2, and fucking Snow Patrol. All the atmospherics, deadly serious singing, and borderline non sequitur lyrics are here, arranged just so. It begs to be dismissed.
And yet there’s no denying the, yes, craft behind this set of songs. Narcotic sounds positively labored over, from the songs to the arrangements to the dozens of filigrees perfectly scattered throughout by producer Ted Comerford. It’s the kind of record that sells seven or eight million copies, but nobody will admit to owning â€” and in this case, that’s a shame, because No Second Troy is better than Matchbox Twenty, they out-Train Train, and they’re a hell of a lot more interesting than Coldplay. The band’s lyrics are also often better than the faux-meaningful wallpaper that decorates songs by similar bands. It’s clear that a lot of thought, energy, and money went into this recording â€” it was mastered by Greg Calbi, for chrissakes.
At the end of the day, it’s the songs that matter, and even if these have been sanded and polished within an inch of their lives, just when you think you can write No Second Troy off as another litter of soccer-mom-ready poseurs, they toss out another hook. “Feint,” for instance, is a flawless opening track, and one of the sneakier anti-Bush songs I’ve heard this election cycle. “The Gardens After Lockout” is another good example â€” for two-thirds of the song, you’re twiddling your thumbs, but then they give you a Michael Bay crane shot of a bridge, and it’s game, set, match. Other moments aren’t as obvious â€” the nifty fuzz-guitar solo on “Brighten Up,” the lovely, plangent outro on “Burned” (download) â€” but they’re no less effective.
It’s far from perfect. Comerford’s production and/or Calbi’s mastering, for example, have conspired to rob the album of the dynamic range it needs; like pretty much every other well-funded pop/rock record of the modern era, its sonic coating is brittle and shiny to a fault, and repeated listenings are tough on the ears. All this unnecessary compression is the keytar of the 21st century, and it’s going to come back to bite these bands on the ass in ten or fifteen years (either that, or none of us will be able to hear high frequencies anymore). Moreover, there’s a not-insignificant dropoff after the first four songs; the band runs through its gamut relatively quickly, and if you aren’t inclined to pay the entire album careful attention, it doesn’t have much to change your mind after the halfway point.
This is an exceedingly mannered album, but one that defies the listener to deny its flashes of beauty. Not me, brothers and sisters. No Second Troy may very well take a full-on swan dive into adult-contemporary suckitude after a major label gets ahold of them, but at the moment, they’re very good, and threatening to get better. Narcotic isn’t MotÃ¶rhead’s Ace of Spades, but not everything has to be. Turn it up, you cynical bastards.