Over the past few years South African rock stars The Parlotones have tried to repeat their home success Stateside – with mixed results. Their tours often play to packed venues, but the venues themselves aren’t exactly A-list stadiums; their song ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ was used in TV show One Tree Hill, but they’ve barely had any radio airplay at all. Compare that with their arena-filling, record-breaking, World Cup-opening reputation in South Africa, and you could forgive them for becoming despondent.
With their latest album, Journey Through The Shadows, they clearly haven’t given up on America – in fact, they’re gunning for it with all barrels. This is the most Americanized the band have sounded , from the thumping stadium guitars of ‘We Just Want To Be Loved’ (is there a subliminal message there?) to the soft rock solo of ‘I Am Alive’. Even the song titles – ‘Sweet Like A Stolen Kiss’, ‘Soul And Body’, ‘Down By The Lake’ – seem specially written for homecoming kings and queens everywhere.
Unfortunately this new slant has also diluted the Parlotones sound, however, and the end result sounds less like a revolution than a rehashing of everyone from Green Day to Maroon 5. Part of The Parlotones’ appeal has always been their scene-free quirkiness, the inevitable quality of other-ness that comes from growing up outside of America’s borders. Their sound flirted with the familiar, but then Kahn Morbee’s one-of-a-kind vocals would derail it, leading you somewhere else entirely. At least that used to be the case. Now even Kahn sounds restrained and airbrushed, those idiosyncrasies dialed back in favor of radio-friendly anthems.
Who knows – maybe this tweaking of their sound will finally get The Parlotones the American airplay they so clearly desire. But along the way they’ve lost some of the spark that made them unique in a scene already bursting at the seams with punk-pop clones. Journey Through The Shadows still has some strong tunes, but we already know that The Parlotones can be far more interesting than this. Let’s hope that this journey is only just beginning.
Journey Through The Shadows is available now from all good music retailers. You can read our interview with Paul Hodgson of The Parlotones here.