Spectrals’ sophomore effort, Sob Story, is a throwback in the truest sense of the term, bringing to mind the pub rock of the mid-70s so effortlessly played by the likes of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. The man behind Spectrals, Louis Jones, has mentioned Costello more than once as an influence. Like his bespectacled predecessor, Jones likes to genre hop, bringing a newfound interest in country that widens the sound of Spectrals. Add to this a confidence that was missing on Bad Penny, and you have the makings of an album that should be something special. While there are some good songs on the record, Sob Story unfortunately just misses out on hitting greatness.
This time around, Jones is joined by his brother, Will, on the drums, and Girls’ bassist JR White doing production duties. From the opener “Let Me Cave In”, it’s clear that this new combination brings out the best in Louis Jones’ songcraft. “Let Me Cave In” does what all good openers are supposed to: it grabs your attention and gives you plenty to like and grab hold of. It’s got that pub rock swagger that toes the line between indie and punk, dosing the listener with a dazzling hook and some decent instrumentation. It’s the hooks in this first part of the album that really gain hold, with “Heartbeat Behind” and “Karaoke” making their way into your ear and refusing to let go.
Then, Sob Story switches gears on you with the twang of the title track. It’s a lovely facsimile of what country music sounds like as its mixed through the indie rock filter. It brings forth memories of Louis Jones’s hero, Elvis Costello, and his forays into country. So many people remember Costello in his angry young man phase that they forget those detours into country, classical music, and pop. But, all of those interesting turns and sidesteps felt like a person playing a role, instead of feeling lived-in. Spectrals falls into that category, delving into those country sidestreets like a tourist instead of a resident.
It’s that tourist mindset, of an individual visiting a song and its feeling, that is the lasting impression of Sob Story. For the most part, the songs are confidently built, but too repetitive at times and not quite strong enough to remember after they’re through. Only when the album hits “Blue Whatever” and “Keep Your Magic” does the record truly cook, bringing a sense of purpose that was sorely needed. Spectrals even manage to combine that country twang with its power-pop sensibilities on “Gentle”, creating a tune that feels like the culmination of that newfound confidence.
Spectrals have the skills and now the confidence to create something that goes beyond not only their influences, instead of just the genre exercises they seem resigned to try. That’s not to say Sob Story is a bad album; On the contrary, it has a couple of solid songs that’ll fit in with your iTunes playlist. The record as a whole, however, doesn’t have enough great tunes to make it a solid listen all the way through and with the type of talent Louis Jones has, it’s fair to say that anything less than great is something of a disappointment.