Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Blood Runs Thicker with 51/50s

I've often thought that we live in a new era of music; an era in which genres and sub-genres are getting blended and reblended with the results of sound that we've never heard before. As much as I love the music of the decades before me, and could have definitely seen myself growing up in 1986 or as a teen in 1992, I realize that I would then have to sacrifice something that I as a music fan have come to see as my own: namely the era in music which has seen the rise of new genres and the reemergence of classics with new flavors.
This is no more apparent than with 51/50s, a garage-rock/alternative quartet from the banks of the Thames in London, England. A subtle mix of White Stripes-esque garage-rock sneer with a melodic polish reminiscent of '90s Britpop, 51/50s blend seamlessly an amalgamation of genres that I never thought could work together in a million years. Yet they make it work, and do so with style.
When members Rikki Lee (lead vocals), Ollie Cook (guitar), Jason Gale (bass), and Billy Baker (drums) first got together, I don't think that they in any way could have foreseen what kind of sound would be coming out of their speakers once they plugged in. But that's how the best sounds come to life. Rarely do artists know exactly how it's going to sound, or how they want it, and that's what makes for the most interesting albums and songs. Some lineups are poison to the music they create: prone to infighting and clashes in artistic direction that eventually lead to the demise of a clearly talented group and thoughts of what might have been. I'm no band therapist, but I don't see any signs of that here. Something about their music shows that 51/50s know exactly what they have going, and know how to keep it coming.
With the release of their album Dangerous State of Mind, 51/50s are definitely poised for a garage-rock takeover of the unsuspecting underground masses. The energy that flows from songs like "Heartbleeder" and "Blood Runs Thicker" isn't something you can fake. You either have it or you don't, and these guys really have it. A mix of garage-rock smirk and alternative swagger, "Heartbleeder" showcases 51/50s' fantastic instrumental talents as well as their cleverly written lyrics. With a cymbal-led intro by Baker and a vocal slide-in by Lee, I immediately see influences from JET and The Vines. Gale is on his mark brilliantly, and his bass lines pulse with the energy and attitude befitting a true punk-rocker. Halfway in between classic bass influences like Jack Bruce and Geezer Butler and more modern ones like Flea and Greg K, Gale's bass fills in breaks of the song that would otherwise be lacking without him. Yet his bass lines, funky and sexy as they are, would seem empty without Cook's guitar work. Relying heavily on a great amount of distortion with stop/start chords and catchy melodic hooks, Cook makes "Heartbleeder" a must-hear track on the album.
One of the songs that really impresses me after "Heartbleeder" is "Lies," a poppy, almost theatrical track where Lee shows that he's got something to say. I can only imagine that this would be a great song to hear live, and in my mind I see Lee bounding over the stage to the beat set down by Gale and Baker behind him as Cook's guitar fills in the rhythm and musicality behind him. This song must be a crowd-pleaser, and if the melody and "la, la, la, la" chorus weren't enough to get those fans up and jumping with the beat, then Cook's guitar solo would be. "Lies" is definitely a party song, and any party going on and these guys playing out back is just destined to be legendary. Blending raw energy with party-starter attitude, 51/50s take it to the next level, and I have no choice by to ride shotgun on Baker's pounding drums and Gale's head-bopping bass. If there is anything wrong with this track, I can't find it, and if there is, it doesn't matter anyway: there are just too many things right with this song for it to be brought down by anything. Brilliant.
The party continues with "The Great Pretender." I'm having a hard time finding words just to describe this track. It's so melodic and guitar heavy that I don't know if it falls into alternative-rock or just a category of its own. Cook's guitar is a bit heavier here, but with riffs and chords that you can't help but hum along to. Hell-bent on leaving no fan behind, Lee's vocals pack a punch, leaving your head spinning as Gale and Baker drill into your mind with a rhythmic set that moves the song along at a break-neck speed. Fast enough to keep you guessing, but not too fast to leave you behind, "The Great Pretender" seems to be the epitome of great British rock of the modern age, boasting commendable guitar work by Cook and Gale and drumming that lends just the right of kick to the back-beat. And with Lee as frontman and lead vocalist, the chorus here is something I won't forget for a very very long time, if ever. If every track on Dangerous State of Mind is like this one, I see no stopping any time in 51/50s' future.
I'm so flustered by the catchy and hard-rock nature of their sound that I can't find anymore words to write about 51/50s. Their songs are top-notch, their melodies and rhythms tight-knit, and their hedonism stylistic in its execution. These are the guys that every new band will want to model themselves after, and the one that no one will ever get close to. Like I always say, the mark of a truly great artist is what sets them apart from others, and here 51/50s have set themselves so far apart I wonder if they're even in the same universe anymore. But I don't care; their music is amazing and their collective attitude contagious, and that's something I don't see changing anytime soon. I love it.

Sounds Like: JET, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis, The Vines

Key Tracks from Dangerous State of Mind: "Heartbleeder," "Lies," "The Great Pretender," "Blood Runs Thicker"

Check out 51/50s more at: and

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