Home Read Classic Album Review: The Watchmen | Slomotion

Classic Album Review: The Watchmen | Slomotion

The Winnipeg veterans trade guitar-rock for electronics on their tepid fifth album.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Call it Kid Eh? OK, maybe that’s pushing things just a tad. But there’s no downplaying the extent to which Slomotion heralds the dawning of another brand new day for Winnipeg’s Watchmen.

The veteran modern-rock outfit have never sounded more modern than they do on the electronica-influenced Slomotion, their fifth CD, second for EMI Music Canada and — most significantly — first disc since the departure of drummer Sammy Kohn. What made Sammy run? Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if these tunes had something to do with it.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing repulsively amiss with any of these eight new tracks. But they do represent a drastic change in direction for the Watchmen, now down to the trio of singer Danny Greaves, guitarist Joey Serlin and bassist Ken Tizzard. Slomotion is an ambitious — if somewhat ininspired — move toward the shaded, textural soundscapes and experimental cut-’n’-paste electronica of Radiohead and R.E.M.’s more cerebral recent works. And a very deliberate — if slightly flawed — step away from the guitar and drum-based rock of the band’s four previous albums, especially the looser, more spontaneous fare of 1998’s Silent Radar.

Nothing on Slomotion feels very spontaneous. Assembled is the word that comes to mind. These songs don’t seem so much written as constructed with the help of co-producers Rhys Fulber and Toronto’s DJ Iain. The basic building blocks are the repetitive beatbox rhythms, buzzing and rumbling bass pulses and tape-loop grooves that provide the trip-hoppy, low-end foundations. The band tops these loose, open-ended sonic structures with even more artificial, synthesized sound — scratches, squiggles, scribbles, swoops, swooshes that seem to encase nearly every second of this album. If you played snippets of these songs for friends and asked them to guess who, some might guess Radiohead, others might think Massive Attack, others Peter Gabriel — but I wager none would pick Watchmen.

Not, at least, until they heard from Serlin and Greaves. The former’s arena-rock power-crunch guitar — tossing off gigantic hooks a la U2’s Edge and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck — and the latter’s powerful yet soulful vocals are what keep Slomotion firmly grounded in the pop world. As squirrelly, distant and homogenous as tracks like Together, I Like It, Holiday and first single Absolutely Anytime threaten to get at times, the FM-radio riffs and soaring, singalong choruses consistently rein them in, imparting the tunes with enough warmth, accessibility and individuality to make them acceptable car-radio fare. It’s Radiohead retooled for the radio waves.

Too bad there isn’t more of it to go around. Slomotion’s eight new songs clock in at about 32 minutes — practically an EP by today’s epic-length album standards and, frankly, not much to show for three years of work. And while it’s obvious quality and not quantity was the band’s priority, it seems equally evident they (or perhaps EMI) were concerned about the disc’s slim running time and bold new sound. At least, that seems to explain why Slomotion comes with more than a full CD of extras: A new version of Silent Radar’s Stereo, multi-media content and a feature that allows you to remix the album’s title track, and an entire second CD dubbed Rewind, containing nine songs from the band’s first four more-digestible discs. All of which makes Slomotion a good deal, to be sure. But one that detracts from its musical and artistic cohesion and impact, making it seem as if the band is padding its homework — or worse, hedging its bets.

Maybe call it Kid Eh-minus instead.