I saw Archers of Loaf play at NYU in 1996 for two dollars. I think maybe a full-price ticket was like six bucks, but our intern at work went to NYU and got me that sweet, sweet student discount so I could save four clams and maybe buy a Budweiser at the show. That was a long-ass time ago, and there are no more two-dollar shows. But there is, somehow, still Archers of Loaf. Even if it’s been almost a quarter of a century between their last album, White Trash Heroes, and this one, Reason in Decline. Hey, what’s old is new again. Kinda.
I suppose it’s all trendy and stuff for 90s bands to get back together in the 2020s. After all, there are all of us Gen Xers with this spare cash to blow on… well, on streaming their music and occasionally getting out of our recliners to bump into other old people at a concert venue. But it must be more than that. After all, the leader of AoL, Eric Bachmann, has kept himself relatively busy with various endeavors since the band broke up in 1998. There was the parallel weirdo side-project for him, Barry Black. And, of course, the decade-long, post-breakup project, Crooked Fingers. And his solo stuff. But, apparently, he just couldn’t quit these guys and obviously felt he and they had more left in the tank. For at least one more go ’round on the Archers of Loaf train. I’m not sure who exactly was asking for this, but I’ll certainly take it.
And for a quick minute (or 2:58 to be exact), it seems like the old Archers are back. Not old as in geriatric, but old as in mid-nineties. Track one, “Human,” feels very angsty and of that time. I mean when you end a song with this bummer of a line, you know you’re of and for a generation: “Oh, yeah, it’s hard to be human, only death can set you free.” I can’t say it really gets much more uplifting from there. Though they do keep the rock ‘n’ roll going. And it starts off feeling much like an Archers album, honestly. It’s this combination of bombast and anthemic rise and fall. You can feel on tracks like “Saturation and Light” where perhaps some more “modern” bands like The Killers got some of their ideas. Granted, this album is a bit cleaner than their early stuff, but still certainly not glossy. Just produced in such a way that it’s not all fuzz, feedback and overdrive.
But then half way through the record, things start to sag a bit. Not that slow, nice songs like “Aimee” are bad in any way — in fact, it’s a fine song — but the plinky dystopian love song (or whatever it is) is just not what I’m looking for in my old-guy rock. They ostensibly go right back to the rock after that track, but the thing just isn’t the same. Sure, the album is angry and political and has all the requisite guitar noise, but there is something just… not melodic about it. And I’m a melody guy. Honestly, that’s why Vee Vee is my favorite AoL album. It just has so many good songs on it (and so many guitar bends). I mean I named Hipster Jr. Jr. after this album, so it better have been good! Expectations are a biatch, and I know that. But when expectations are met — or at least surprise is instilled in a positive way — only to be kind of let down down the stretch, it’s almost worse than not being hyped at all. But that’s just my negative Nancy generation talking. Dammit.