Riverboat Gamblers, Underneath the Owl

Riverboat Gamblers, Underneath the Owl

The Riverboat Gamblers’ latest release for the Volcom label, Underneath the Owl, does well at providing die-hard fans with torrential vocals over quick, slappy guitars, but feels like a shallow push towards marketability — although I doubt that was the Gamblers’ intention. Donning a new producer to cultivate the hard, adrenal sound of the young Texans, the Gamblers have come out of the studio with something that lacks what previous albums had in abundance: indiscernible, balls-to-the-wall rawness. This is what we all liked about previous Gamblers music, and this is exactly what kills us about their latest release.

The old Gamblers retain a minor presence on a few cuts on Owl. On the album opener, “Dissdissdisskisskisskiss,” the Gamblers seem to be breaking the news of their change of format to us easy, because when the raucous guitars and a general sense of playing-too-fast-for-their-own-good comes to light, it’s all a bit too clean and contrived to really be authentic. The projected single, “A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology,” has a nice chorus, which is almost enough to cover ground for the lackluster verses (it’s that four-chord progression staccato strum that’s played really fast; think radio-worthy ’90s alt-rock a la Lit).

The Gamblers seem to proceed with formulaic precision into a mood of punk rock stagnancy with “Keep Me from Drinkin’,” a post-party comedown song, and the xylophonic “Robots May Break Your Heart,” which seems to be some sort of social commentary on the organic vs. inorganic, technological vs. the visceral. Then “Catastrophe” harangues its way just safe of mediocrity, while “Steer Clear” inadvertently grooves its way in and out of ’90s pastiche. While these tracks all serve as solid cornerstones, providing the subject and the sound that could make a worthy effort on the Gamblers’ behalf, they also lend themselves as fodder for a shabby go.

Surprisingly, the Gamblers are at their best on Owl when they cater to their pop tendencies, and although it’s not the Gamblers of old, there is some promise. “Alexandra” first catches the ear with a sophisticated pop-punk feel that’s reminiscent of early Green Day albums. “Tearjerker” shows vocalist Mike Weibe in a honest and vulnerable light, with the music acting as a vessel for the lyrics, something that’s rare with the band’s music. The Gamblers even don some lap-steel to seal the song’s fate as the “feeler” of the album.

It seems that the Gamblers, like the natural process of things, have begun evolving — unless, of course, it was a conscious attempt by producer Mudrock to give the band a new, more mainstream skin. Now instead of getting harder and heavier, they are letting up a little bit and giving their songs room to breathe.

This album is a crossroads for the boys from Denton. When they’re not thrashing and crashing their way through Underneath the Owl, the Gamblers seem to be doing a little growing up, which is refreshing and proof of actual artistry in the music, but still leaves the fan feeling nostalgia for the old days. They couldn’t stay our sweet, beer-soaked, punk, party band forever, could they?

(Volcom Entertainment -- 1740 Monrovia Ave., Costa Mesa, CA. 92627; http://www.volcoment.com/; Riverboat Gamblers -- http://www.theriverboatgamblers.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Saturday, June 20th, 2009. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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