Final version of this review available here.
When Kanye West finally unleashed The Life of Pablo to Tidal subscribers after the messiest promotional campaign the music industry has ever seen, fans had a lot of questions. Would the album ever be for sale? Had “Famous” officially reignited the Taylor Swift feud? And why in God’s name is the track list STILL changing? One of the most notable discussion points, however, was centered around a track called “Father Stretch by Hands, Part 2”, which found Kanye’s entire fanbase wondering out loud: “Who the hell is this guy that sounds exactly like Future?”
That guy was New York rapper Desiigner, who would soon top the Billboard singles chart thanks to a comprehensive hijacking of one artist’s musical approach. Unfortunately for the newcomer, being a carbon copy of one of the most ubiquitous modern entertainers has already proven an all-but insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps he could learn a thing or two from British 3-piece Dinosaur Pile-Up, whose third LP Eleven Eleven instead elects to emulate a defunct, critically lauded band from over 20 years ago.
Much of Eleven Eleven is overwhelmingly indebted to Nirvana, with frontman Matt Bigland often adopting Kurt Cobain’s raspy groan and strumming through rhythm guitar parts reminiscent of the Seattle legends’ more aggressive material like “Breed”, “Milk It”, or “Scentless Apprentice”. However, this isn’t to say that Dinosaur Pile-Up have absorbed all of Nirvana’s chaotic charisma– the songs on here that most prominently channel this influence do so with mixed results. Most successful is album standout “Crystalline”, a downtrodden anthem with a golden hook, airtight structure, and a climactic guitar solo. Least successful is “Grim Valentine”, which is like Nevermind fresh out of a processing plant – Bigland and bassist Jim Cratchley blend into each other for a drab, repetitive riff, and Bigland’s vocals are so apathetic that it becomes contagious for the listener. “Grim Valentine” is Dinosaur Pile-Up stepping in Nirvana’s snow boot-sized footprints with Crocs.
While Cobain and Co.’s fingerprints are the most prominent on Eleven Eleven, Dinosaur Pile-Up are not clones. The beefy, overdriven guitars call to mind Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, as well hints of early Rage Against the Machine in spots, particularly in the opening title cut’s monstrous groove. The band also brings a slight Speed Metal edge to the roaring “Bad Penny”, a late-album shot of adrenaline with a circle pit-friendly bridge section. “Nothing Personal” is another up-tempo banger that would fit right in as the token aggressive song on a Foo Fighters record (e.g. “White Limo” on Wasting Light, “Enough Space” on The Colour and the Shape).
Ultimately, the LP’s most egregious flaws aren’t caused by derivative ideas but simply creative misfires. Particularly challenging are the plodding melodies on “Willow Tree”, the monotonous chugging verses in “Friend of Mine”, and the limp angst of “Anxiety Trip”, on which Bigland delivers elementary lyrics like “I’m different, but I don’t care/I’m awkward….I wonder if I’m loved at all.” On most of these eleven tracks, Bigland’s vague disenchantment grows tedious.
Eleven Eleven is not a record that inspires a strong reaction in either direction, because it operates within narrow musical boundaries and isn’t terribly stimulating or provocative. At its best, it’s a meat-and-potatoes tribute to the revolutionary Alternative Rock of the early ‘90s. At its worst, you just want to pop in a copy of In Utero