In 1982, Joe Jackson was wondering what was “Breaking Us in Two,” Elvis Costello invited us into his Imperial Bedroom and the Police were finished coaxing the ghost out of the machine, beginning their journey of trying to find Carl Jung. Meanwhile, the Jam were asking, “Just Who is the Five O’Clock Hero?” Twenty-five years later, we have our answer in the form of the half-English, half-American quartet, the Five O’Clock Heroes. Rather than trying to make music that lives in the heart of 1982, however, the Heroes are more like a band formed in 1982, having been influenced by all of the music before that year.
The Five O’Clock Heroes are all about short bursts of jerky electric guitar riffs and clipped vocal phrasing. While everyone in singer Anthony Ellis’ newly adopted hometown of New York City (Ellis is formerly of Northampton, England) were reveling in the sounds of The Strokes, The Rapture and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, he was delving into those bands’ collective past influences. Bend to the Breaks lives in the place from which come Look Sharp!, Drums and Wires, Outlandos D’Amour, All Mod Cons and Get the Knack. Opener “Head Games” and ensuing tracks like “Time On My Hands” stutter along with post-punk jerk pop along with the best of them. It’s certainly catchy and immediate.
While most of the songs on Bend to the Breaks are intensely entertaining, they are like a pot of coffee left on the burner too long. At first, the aromas are fresh and inviting, but after a time, that burned coffee just begins to smell like an old office building, stale and slightly rank. Put in another way, it’s like making a photocopy of a photocopy, with the quality of the image becoming less and less coherent. “Run to Her” is the perfect example, sounding less like the songs of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and more like a direct Strokes ripoff, which is itself a pale imitation of its predecessors. Ironically, Ellis left England because he found it too cynical, arriving in New York because it was `the most exciting city in the world.’ Unfortunately for Ellis, his band seemingly comes five years too late, if not 25.
“Knocked Her Up,” a title funny on its own, and considering the dual meanings in both England and America, I’m sure they knew both, sounds so much like Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That,” I thought at first it was a cover. “Corporate Boys” is a mash-up of the Clash and the Jam, which might have made for an interesting, if not scandalous, band name of the Clam. Oh, I’m so naughty! “Stay the Night” seemingly lifts the `hanging lyric’ from A Flock of Seagulls, with “I wanna be alone” replacing “I wanna run away.” The vocals in “White Girls” are anything but “In Control,” the ironic title of the follow-up track, as the singing goes virtually everywhere but in tune. It was actually quite painful.
If the album is listened to in short bursts, aping the guitar style on its tracks, Bend to the Breaks can be entertaining and its songs catchy and enjoyable. As a whole, however, at twelve tracks and what’s normally considered short at thirty-five minutes, Bend to the Breaks can also be overlong and repetitive. Only a few songs particularly stand out, and those seem later to be photocopied and reassembled to become the rest of the tracks present. Maybe that’s why for the last four years, the Five O’Clock Heroes have been gaining success with a string of singles as opposed to full-length albums. So, while the Five O’Clock Heroes may have answered Paul Weller’s twenty-five year-old question, it brings to mind another question, “Does anybody know what time is?”