When you’ve built a reputation around taking it to the limit, where do you go next? After two albums of high-intensity, febrile punk rock, you get the feeling that Californian urchins Starcrawler were finding that to be a pressing question.
Whirlwind frontwoman Arrow de Wilde has hinted that being stuck in top gear is beginning to feel limited, while stage stunts such as spitting fake blood over the audience have begun to “feel like a schtick”.
Meanwhile, guitarist Henri Cash has explained that on this third studio album “we wanted to make songs on this record for everyone. For people that weren’t just into punk rock.”
In other news that will doubtless be music to the ears of Big Machine, the major label they just signed to, Starcrawler also seem consciously focused on breaking out of the alt.rock ghetto and support-slot circuit and into the big league.
Cash spoke about an informative chat with Dave Grohl, in which, says Cash: “We were telling him how hard it was and how much we wanted to upgrade from a van and tour in a bus. Dave said: ‘Well you gotta write a hit, then!’ That really stuck with us.”
That figures when you hear some of the tracks on She Said, which sound noticeably softer in texture than their previous studio records. Yet subtlety doesn’t always suit them. Jetblack’s pop-rock style is likeable enough, but de Wilde’s cool, lower-register vocal style begins to sound faintly disinterested when it’s not offsetting heavier sounds. Broken Angels is another mid-paced almost-anthem, in which she admits: ‘I don’t want to have to do this dance.’
She doesn’t sound that arsed about singing the song, either. Her delivery is more convincing when fronting high-octane opener Roadkill (‘run you over and see how it feels’), sounding full of charismatic menace, and when backed by the buzzing guitars and thumping rhythm of True Deranged.
The emotive top-line melody of Stranded also suits her better as she evokes a touch of country yearning in there. That might point to a more promising direction, as closing acoustic lament Better Place hits home convincingly, complete with pedal steel and banjo by new band member Bill Cash, brother of Henri.
For now, though, this album feels like something of a transitional one for Starcrawler, as they find themselves torn between their residual instinct to rock and a desire to roll into new creative areas.