Once of Pavement, Scott Kannberg hands in his second album as Spiral Stairs, showing none of the energy, rawness or imagination of his former band
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Let’s have a brief look at the history of projects released by the other member of a band after their band has broken up. By ‘other member’ I mean the second member you think of when you think of the band. They might have had some creative input into the music, but this was secondary to the member with the brains. In this category, we have Albert Hammond Jr., whose music was fine, but not altogether that memorable. Then there’s Dirty Pretty Things, who had that ‘Bang Bang’ song but were otherwise completely forgettable. Finally we have Beady Eye, who were — let’s be honest — a load of shit. None of this bodes especially well for Spiral Stairs, solo project of Scott Kannberg, the other member of Pavement.
If like some kind of whimsical lunatic you have blazed into this review without knowing who Pavement were, they were a cult American indie band from the ’90s fronted and masterminded by Stephen Malkmus. Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg played guitar (and very well too — listen, for instance, to the dreamy breakdown at the end of ‘Stop Breathin’’) and occasionally chipped in with a songwriting credit. Sadly, nothing on ‘Doris and the Daggers’ is anywhere near as charmingly raucous as ‘Hit the Plane Down’. Instead, while lead single ‘Dance (Cry Wolf)’ opens with all the swagger you’d expect of one of America’s most influential groups since the Velvet Underground, it delivers about as much compelling originality as a cheap wedding band. And not the good kind; the kind whose frontman takes long breaks between songs to make jokes about shagging the bride’s mum. The dreary dad rock continues on ‘Emoshuns’, a fitting title for a song with all the cringe-worthy sentimentality of a parent who’s just learned how to text. For some reason third track ‘Dundee Man’ consists of weird lyrics enthusing about the many thrills of Scottish cities (‘I’m gonna climb your seats / and eat your haggis meat’). Scotland might need a new national anthem soon, and they know who not to ask.
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Vocally, ‘Doris and the Daggers’ could hardly be further flung from Pavement. Kannberg’s overzealous bellowing is louder, clearer, perhaps even technically better than that of Pavement’s lead singer. Malkmus didn’t so much wrap his vocal chords around those songs as much as drape them loosely and abstractly among them, entangling them with the snarly sound of the band. By contrast, ‘No Comparison’ sees Kannberg’s voice sit uncomfortably atop an awkward synth groove, like Bruce Springsteen covering Hot Chip.
After a band breaks up, the music its former members go on to make can be a good way of telling who the real genius in that band was. Ardent Pavement fans might take some joy in mild ‘Doris and the Daggers’ highlight ‘Trams (Stole My Love)’, but even they will struggle to get through an album that’s nothing like as good as Malkmus’s solo work since Pavement split. For most, this is just another album.