AM Taxi - We Don't Stand a Chance
Release Date: June 8, 2010
Record Label: Virgin
There is a subtle irony to AM Taxi that only fans of vocalist Adam Krier's previous band, Lucky Boys Confusion, might understand. The Chicago quintet's debut album is riddled with an old-school rock sound, highly influenced by the likes of Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen. Also known as, the Boss. Or maybe... the Bossman? Get it? Bossman. Yeah, you know, because, um... well. It's a LBC song title.
Hmm. Okay, nevermind. Tough crowd, bad icebreaker. Not my night. That's all I got for an introduction, folks.
Thankfully, AM Taxi's album is so good, you'll forget about that embarrasingly pathetic attempt at "humor." It's the sort of debut that comes without much prior band knowledge yet is able to adeptly present itself with a nicely-polished lo-fi production that will appeal to any fan of a classic, working-man-blues rock sound. We Don't Stand a Chance isn't quite as ominous an album title as it sounds, and in 40 minutes, AM Taxi give you plenty of evidence as to how they'll stack up against the current output of rock bands going for massive stadium appeal (see: Against Me and Gaslight Anthem).
Krier is an apt vocalist who doesn't try very hard. It's actually rather difficult not to compare him to the Replacements' Westerberg, simply because there's an indelible charm to his lack of vocal personality. Not that these are complaints: you see, it's all in what you sing and how you make your lyrics work through whatever your voice lacks. Not to say Krier's voice is missing a spark; it fits this style almost too well. While he's not quite Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, Krier has a cooling effect on the songs, and despite some lyrical clumsiness from time to time (we can't all be as nostalgic as Brian Fallon or as articulate as Tom Gabel), it's something that Krier has gotten better at since his LBC days. "The Mistake" is about as straightforward a modern-rock, blues-laden ballad as you can get, and saddled with a kick-ass hook, the lyrics do feel a tad forced ("I will be the razor, baby / I will be the pill / I am the ambulance that never comes / I am the anecdote you spill"). Shall we fault the band for that? Nah. They more than make up for it with the other ten tracks.
"Dead Street" is a rich anthem piped full of organ and, as noted before, minus the weak lyrics in the chorus, "The Mistake" isn't like much else on modern-rock radio these days. First single "Fed Up" contains Born to Run-esque keys & harmonies that Springsteen would surely approve of, as does the jamtastic "Woodpecker" ("You hurt me / But you do it right" just sounds like something the Boss would have cried out). "Charissa" contains the most LBC-like hook over a fantastic beat (big ups to drummer Chris Smith for keeping every track steady yet not predictable) and ignore the silly title: "Tanner Boyle vs. the 7th Grade" is jacked-up with percussion, raising it's status as the album's grandest-sounding tune. If you can imagine Paul Westerberg fronting a pop-punk band, you'll get the idea of how amazing "Paper Covers Rock" is (same goes for fast-paced "Shake, Rattle and Roll"). It's a red-hot sizzler, but unfortunately leads into the so-so "Maydays and Rosaries," which gets bogged down a bit by a muddled gang-vocal chorus and bad placement in the tracklisting (wouldn't be a bad closer, honestly, however "Champagne Toast" is too good).
The dark, low-key production (courtesy of producer Mike McCarthy) never distracts and heightens a beat-driven sound that indicates the band's influences. From the Clash to the Police to the aforementioned bands, there's really no denying how big these classic bands have played a part in contributing to what AM Taxi does here. Luke Schmidtt and his keyboard seem to be having a one-man party here, and he plays off of Smith's almost-improvisational style with aplomb. We Don't Stand a Chance is an anomoly in today's rock scene, and what makes it work is that it's not here to achieve a particular medium of success for a core scene. Plain and simple, it is a rock record. A mixture of punk, blues and pop, it's loaded with an easy-going platform that will appeal to both new and old schools of rock admirers. The band set out to make an album that wasn't entirely deriative or modern; they just wanted to do what bands used to do: record a rock album.
Like my terribly unfunny opening "joke," you'll either take it or leave it. Sure, the description sounds redundant: how many bands these days are trying their hand at imitating Springsteen or to a lesser desgree, Joe Strummer or Paul Westerberg? AM Taxi know what their limitations are, and on record #1, they're pretty apparent. There's really nothing to dig deep on philosophically or analyze with a fine-toothed comb. This is a straight-up kick-ass rock record that throws in the right amount of organ & piano, pivots itself on a set of rockabilly beats, and has the soul of a vocalist who doesn't try to be anyone he isn't (listen to "Champagne Toast" for Krier's finest hour as both a singer and a songwriter). Eventually, one would like the band to address their own individual sound, but with how it is now, it shines like a crazy diamond. I mean, throw in some baseball and apple pie, and you have American classic rock personified, my friend.
Despite the pessmistic title, believe the fact that AM Taxi has more than a chance to make a big impression on anyone with a penchant for rock music with a touch of nostalgia for lush melodies. They have all the same opportunity to fill up the stadiums as the Boss, Sting or Tom Petty did. Mark my words: they will.
I felt the same way about it initially, but it's definitely a grower.
Totally agree. I have had this album since November, and it took me a number of listens to fully appreciate what this band can do. It's a debut, so you take it as it is and hope the band can build on the positives the next time around, which I believe they can.