CD Review of Violence Is Golden by The Scanners

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Violence Is Golden
starstarstarno starno star Label: Dim Mak
Released: 2006
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When I hear the word Scanners I instantly think of that classic David Cronenberg movie. You know the one, it has that infamous scene where Michael Ironside makes a dude’s head explode just by using his mind. I used to watch that scene in slow-motion so many times that I practically killed my mom’s VCR. Yeah…I was an odd little kid.

So when I was getting ready to listen to Violence Is Golden, the debut CD by the London quartet that shares the same name as my favorite Canadian movie about megalomaniacal psychics that enjoy exploding people’s heads, I was really hoping for 11 tracks about telepathic killers and exploding craniums. Unfortunately, instead I just got another CD by another band that’s taken their love of ‘80s bands like Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen way too far.

Things definitely start out on a high note, with the ominous and creepy ballad “Joy” – a loving ode to a high-tech sex toy – serving as a great opener to the CD. Lead singer Sarah Daly’s vocals are highly reminiscent of PJ Harvey (but in a good way) and she makes the song ooze with sexuality while simultaneously sounding detached from her own emotions, as she repeats the single word chorus over and over again (“Joy”) as if she’s a computer voice box, like that thing that Stephen Hawking uses.

Daly’s powerful vocals save many songs on the album that are otherwise very weak. Both “Bombs” and the first single, “Low Life” are the best examples of this. While Daly practically cries out the lyrics to “Low Life” – the music behind it is pitifully bland, sounding like anything you might hear on a Killers CD, and regardless of what you think of those eye-liner wearing boys from Vegas, copying their not-very-original sound probably isn’t the best way to develop your own distinctive style. Unfortunately, most of the bland, mid-tempo radio-friendly songs that fill the album, such as “In My Dreams” and “Bombs,” do just that, and are as forgettable as Arvil Lavinge’s pseudo-punk or any song by Rob Thomas and his hair.

The best songs on Violence Is Golden are the ones where Daly and the rest of the band deviate from the norm and embrace what should become their signature sound, which sounds like a combination of Sonic Youth’s brooding vocals and the melodic pop sensibilities of synth-heavy rock bands like Garbage. Songs such as “Changing Times,” which begins as a slow ballad and slowly builds into a pounding and rousing finale, and “Evil Twin,” which is just a wicked weird and kick-ass tune from start to finish, easily stand out as the most original (and therefore the most interesting) tracks on the album, while the final two songs, “Look What You Started” and the title track also help spice things up a bit.

So between those four songs and the intensely creepy opening number “Joy,” that’s only half an album of original and exciting music. The rest is just a hodgepodge of generic rock music that probably won’t interest anyone. It’s not exactly bad music, but it’s definitely something I wouldn’t want to own. While I can’t quite recommend this album, I will say that I am looking forward to their next record, which will hopefully feature a band that is less concerned with sounding like everyone else and more concerned about being themselves. If not, I hope it at least has one song about how freakin’ awesome exploding heads can be.

~James B. Eldred