Album Review: ‘Negativity’ by Deer Tick

Derek Schwartz | Contributing Writer

It seems ironic that just a week before releasing its fifth LP, “Negativity,” Deer Tick celebrated the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s infamous third album with a front-to-back cover of “In Utero.” Since Kurt Cobain’s death, music scholars and coked-up Nirvana groupies alike have looked to “In Utero” as the ultimate display of teenage angst and youth rebellion. The record, which, of course, was the last Cobain wrote before his suicide, has been immortalized as a symbol of the stubborn refusal to just grow up.

Anybody who has closely followed Deer Tick’s recent history of course will see the irony here. In the years since its energetic debut record, “War Elephant,” few bands have tried harder to sound like reckless teenagers than Deer Tick. Even as frontman John McCauley III passed into his 30s, he desperately clung to the misplaced aggression and immaturity that defined the band’s early work.

With this image of Deer Tick still fresh in my mind, I cautiously approached its newest record on high alert for that rotten stench of expired teen spirit. However, any fears I had were relieved soon after the opening notes of the first track, “The Rock.” The album opens with a laid-back ascending bass line that is joined by McCauley softly repeating, “My love for you is all but new/I give the rock to only you/It is the piece that can break through/The window of our love.” Even as the electric guitar and bass drum kick in and the pace picks up, “The Rock” maintains an aura of pessimism and frustration that could only come from a guy who has weathered a few tours.

Despite the promising start, “Negativity” is far from flawless. After “The Rock,” the album takes a turn for the worse with “The Curtain,” which sounds like a scrapped demo from Axl Rose’s disastrous “Chinese Democracy.” Bad goes to worse on “Just Friends,” which covers just about every cliche of bad country music. Still, though, there are moments of greatness on “Negativity.” The three-song streak of “Mr. Sticks,” “Trash” and “Thyme” is almost strong enough to ignore the atrocious collaboration with Vanessa Carlton, “In Our Time,” that follows—almost.

In a recent interview with Consequences of Sound, McCauley revealed his aspirations for Deer Tick to become the biggest band in the world. While “Negativity” probably won’t be the album that gets the group there, it is certainly an improvement over “Divine Providence,” and that’s a start. What the album lacks above all is not talent but consistency. For every great moment on “Negativity,” there is another of mediocrity or worse. With a little more selective editing, this could have been a very good album, maybe even a great album, but as it stands, it is nothing more than a step in the right direction. Thankfully, the band has all but ditched its cheap forgeries of teenage angst, but until it finds its own unique tone, it will struggle to win over a solid fan base.

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