American Cherry, the new album by Halifax rockers Wheeler, starts off in full rev, without a moment’s notice or hesitation. The music is charged with pace, grinding and slurring its way forward in a bluesy, stadium-punk swagger. The guitar work feels nasty and snarling, rolling with a jagged sleaze, the vocals are hoarse and punctuated, casting a sleazy leer over the EP, while the drums and bass work at a constant. However, the infatuation does not last long.
Once viewed beyond its high-octane polish, something feels jarring — and not in the good way. The lyrical content is predictable, the musicianship, undeniably tight, yet uninventive. the architecture feels like one-size-fits-all supplement.
Perhaps this is why, for better the sound reminds me of a dozen other bands. At its core, their sonic voice, a cross pollination of hair metal, punk and classic rock, lacks any definitive identity of its own. The drumbeat appears to replace itself in each song, like a hydra of simplified rock grooves — think Jet, or Golden Earring. The vocals seem to borrow more from a hall-of-mirrors Axl Rose than anything else and when we hear the words: “I don’t think we got no soul”, off the first cut, ‘Gold’, it is difficult to believe their credibility, or to shake their irony.
At most times, save for some jolting, asymmetric solos and breaks, the fretwork and riffing feel too tidy and compartmentalized in the predictable song structures. Just when a measure seems ready to really kick off, it breaks off into another pre-elaborated coda, washing it away with the musical equivalent of a Budweiser. At times, like during ‘Would if I Could’, whose opening recalls shades of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Takes Some Time’, the music veers, bow heavy, towards the more anthemic and popified progressions of the college rock world, disarming its punk validity and drive.
While the music off American Cherry exudes potential, it lacks the decidedly raw edge that makes punk wild and a real visceral experience. Here we’re given a prefab equivalent; once the facade is kicked in, it lacks guts. It is certainly not a deficit of talent that the band suffers from, but rather lack of vision. The music takes the listener nowhere new, losing itself somewhere in the cookie-cutter ambience of generic classic rock radio, dusty pool halls and dive bars — the kind of places Wheeler wants to embody, not be.