The Automatic - Seriously… I Hate You Guys.
Daniel Grosvenor 17/07/2006
It's a sight so familiar you probably ignore it in favour of your pre-show pint: a bunch of sweaty, ungroomed teens - hyperactive about their first support slot; clad in acne and Nirvana T-shirts - yelling incoherently and thrusting power chords down amps cranked up louder than you'd think physically possible; all the while maintaining a moronically naïve philosophy of “the louder we play and the more we jump around, the more the crowd will like us”.
This desire to impress, rather than create, is characteristic of bands that are just starting out and lack the knowledge or self-confidence to create something that really counts as music. Fortunately, most bands grow out of this phase after a few gigs. They evolve, take shape and find their voice - they stop trying to impress us by sounding like everyone else, and start sounding like themselves. This is how a band progresses. But for a certain converse-clad quartet from the nether regions of Cardiff, it seems the opposite has happened: they've reverted. Truth be told, The Automatic used to be pretty good. So good, in fact, they were offered a quarter-of-a-million record deal while on their gap year, despite never having played outside of Wales. For this reason, I was inclined to believe the reports of this album being “the single best album from a Welsh band - ever” and (God forbid) “better than the Manics”. But having spent the last 3 weeks listening to it (just in case it grew on me) I can safely say: it sucks.
The Automatic currently stand as a shining example of all that is wrong with the record industry, and the prime definition of the word 'sellout'. Either through choice or order of B-Unique, along with getting signed came the decision to dispose of their confident, well-defined sound in favour of a 'boy band' image and - you guessed it - music that tries too hard to impress and sounds like everyone else (let's not even go into the PAINFUL irony of their label being called 'B-Unique'). They've turned into a watered-down, industry-produced McFly tribute band - and they can't even do that right: at least McFly understood marketing. Before you even open the CD you'll notice they managed to hire a design team so inept they can't even print an album sleeve correctly (the side labels are upside down - no, it wasn't intentional). The inlay contains no lyrics or photos of the band; just some very bad artwork to promote 'Monster Cards' - which are little cards you can get that let you join The Automatic mailing list (wooo!). If including no pictures was an attempt at appearing mysterious and elusive, it not only didn't work but was unwise - considering their main selling point is being a group of just-turned-20 year olds with emo hair and baby faces.
Right about now, half the people reading this (including the band, who seem far too interested in their reviews to be that confident about their new style) are devising the best ways to lynch me for saying something critical about Britain's 'hottest new band' - and that's fine. But I'd love to see how many of you still jump to their defence when they sink to the same level of fame as Rooster. Sure, they're album of the month, single of the week, front page NME double-spread feature and TRL masterpiece-of-the-moment: but does it all mean anything? Lest we forget these people once hailed Andrew W.K. as “the saviour of music”. I can fully understand the hype surrounding a group of young Welsh boys in tight tops and yellow converse bouncing erratically and singing about their ex-girlfriends (and sandwiches), but surely such attention should be reserved exclusively for the likes of 'Mizz' and 'Top Of The Pops Magazine', rather than the cross-country airplay we're currently subject to? I think the opening line of the aptly named 'Seriously… I Hate You Guys' sums up the current wave of 'Auto-mania' sweeping the nation: Intoxicated by this sound / Nothing but a fever going round. But now that 'Monster' is falling rapidly out of the charts because - let's face it - you're sick to death of it, it's time to re-evaluate and look at the album as a whole, instead of - as I generally hear it referred to - “the 'Monster' album”. So here we go…
How to make an Automatic: Take one Englishman with boyishly good looks, golden locks and occasional facial hair, and make him SHOUT-HIS-LY-RICS-TO-A-SO-DDING-DRUM-BEAT; one non-expressive Hunter S. Thompson fan and occasional Morrissey-look-alike, who - if you look very closely - changes his facial expression ever so slightly in one video; a suave simpleton who can sing better than all of them, and consequently is confined to singing no more than 3 lines on the entire album; and, last and most definitely least, one spasming, ADHD afflicted keyboard player who thinks he can sing (I had to laugh when rumours began to circulate about B-Unique drafting him into the band to “improve the sound”). Leave them in a room long enough to cook up one semi-catchy tune that falls under the current “NME music” genre, lay it down 11 times and throw some lyrics written in an afternoon on the top (and remember to tell people how they have 'meaning'). Then write a song about a monster. Don't forget to save some pre-recorded noises in the synths so the keyboardist won't have to worry about *playing* anything when he's on stage… dress them all in the Kooks' old wardrobe and away you go!
The band claim that listening to their music is “the cure for 'The Automatic' way of life” - their music, particularly in songs like 'Raoul' and 'You Shout You Shout You Shout You Shout', is - presumably - fused with anarchic, anti-totalitarian energies and lyrics worthy of the communist manifesto. Now, I've been through the album more times than I care to count, and the closest I've come to hegemonic Marxism is Pennie (the gremlin-esque backup vocalist you'll be sick of by the second track) screeching “Keep dancing in the routine way” several thousand times (clearly the next Ginsberg, that one). Of course, if brain-dead repetitive lyrics are your thing you'd probably enjoy this album: and might I recommend 'Raoul' as the coup de grāce for brain-dead context-sensitive wordplay. Quite how a song comprising “let's go see Raoul, let's go see Raoul, let's go see Raoul, let's go see him” can earn NME's Single Of The Week award despite nobody outside of Cardiff having a clue who 'Raoul' is, is really quite depressing. Just for the record…his name is actually Raul and he runs the Mediterranean House Online Café in Whitchurch Road, opposite the recording studio. “Let's go see Raoul” proposes The Automatic's solution to ending capitalism is buying sandwiches. Well, why not?
The lowest moment on the album is undeniably 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled', which (in keeping with their 'our songs are about breaking free of the norm and constraints of society' ethos) is a list of road signs - the chorus being “no parking in lanes, no parking in lanes, no parking in lanes… (repeat indefinitely)”. Although 'Rats' does win the award for 'most painful on the ears', and 'Recover' is undisputedly them at their most 'boy band'. The highlight is probably 'Team Drama', as the lyrics are not only the least repetitive but also relatively well-written. But I'd still recommend downloading it - it's not worth buying the album for.
Naturally there'll be the usual backlash from people saying “you can't judge them by their debut stuff! Maybe they're just sounding like this to get their foot in the door, and their next album will be what they really sound like”. Well - for their sake I hope that is the case, but somehow I doubt it (the words 'and you start to compromise, just to get to the other side' come to mind when people bring up this argument). This album's made me lose all respect for The Automatic, and the only thing from them I look forward to now is the day Alex Pennie duets with the Crazy Frog.
I maintain The Automatic (along with Fearne Cotton) killed Top Of The Pops, and let's be honest: not even other bands like them (except the unsigned ones desperately kissing their arse for hope of getting recognised). Kasabian have declared them “Whiny, depressing and horrible” while, under an ad asking for people to be in their new video, Amy Blue posted the comment “I'm going along as a tosser with a hairstyle moulded with gorillas' semen over one side of my head and my role is to yap high pitched into a microphone while simulating a car crash victim without their crutches - all in the name of entertainment.
…Bollocks. They already have one.”
To put it frankly, if you're a 14 year old girl, or you love jerky synths and mindless, repetitive lyrics - this album's for you. If you buy whatever's in the charts, you already own this - and if you're anyone else, stay away (or the monster will get you). On a greater scale of music history The Automatic are worthy of little more than a footnote. What's that coming over the hill? An expiry date on your success, boys. In a few years when trends change, you'll be settling down to that 'automatic' life you strove so hard to avoid.