Iguana, the second effort from Sydney rock duo Polish Club is curiously named after an infamous pub in their hometown. The name is a sort of bittersweet homage that reflects the lyrical content of the album, an embrace of the “not always so good old days” while moving forward at the same time. For this release, the duo has wrestled with the expectation and nostalgia fans can have as they attempt to broaden their personal creative horizons. It shows.
“We Don’t Care” is just about as strong an album opener as you could want. The track puts the foot down right away as if to say “this is who we are, don’t like it? Bugger off.” It’s a perfect choice for the album’s lead single too, given that it retains a degree of heaviness but you could imagine it playing on any radio anytime. It’s like Polish Club took a peek at the Twenty One Pilots playbook. The guitars are heavy, the drums are bombastic and there’s an anthemic chorus reminiscent of Frogstomp-era Silverchair. It’s a definite highlight.
Title track “Iguana” is not nearly as strong. At times it feels like it could just be “We Don’t Care (Part 2)”, with similar chunky guitar and lifted chorus. Maybe it’s deliberate but in that case it probably would have come off better with more of a gap between songs. This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting elements – the use of a pedestrian crossing signal setting the tempo at the start is inspired and a seemingly random reversed fade in as the track nears its end is a nice tease.
“Goddamn!” sounds tailor-made for radio. David Novak’s vocal melody really shines this time around and gels with the instruments much better. Not to mention the chorus is hard not to move to. Unfortunately “Clarity” doesn’t hit the same mark – though it does showcase John-Henry Pajak’s drumming ability. The “clarity, do you have any?” hook doesn’t really roll that well especially since the vocals are once again delivered in the same style. There are glimpses of falsetto brilliance but they are short lived. The guitar never really breaks away here for its own identity either. Much like most of the initial songs it never strays past serviceable rhythm playing. It’s fine but it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
“Breakapart” is one of the less noteworthy songs but it does signal a slight but welcome change into a different, lighter but more anthemic aesthetic. Next, “Sun” continues the move into more pop territory. The usually understated bass playing helps to set the vigorous scene in the verses. Oddly enough, Novak’s voice almost sounds like Lenny Kravitz at times on this track, but boy does it work.
“Time Crisis” gives us some genuinely different guitar styles via a nearly surf rock up stroke tone in the verses, though it feels slightly disjointed, as though it could easily come unstuck at any moment.
“As Low As It Goes” is the one song you simply have to listen to if you’re going to pick a single song here. Simple acoustic guitar, smooth bass and ice cool twang guitars are accompanied by a drum machine for the most part, however the acoustic drums come back in a very big way to deliver an excellent chorus.
Unfortunately the back third of the album almost isn’t worth your time. “Let’s Pretend” sees a return of the rock of earlier in the album but via Arctic Monkeys or The Black Keys. While it sounds like they decided to throw most of the commercial radio guidebook out and instead trust their instincts, it’s a largely forgettable track.
“2 Scared” is a curve ball. It’s back to rock for sure but with more of a Brit pop spin on the rhythm. “Moonlighting” delivers an interesting disco rock sort of vibe to it but aside from the brief soundscape at the end it’s all just fairly paint by numbers.
“I Don’t Need This Anymore” also brings us back to the formulaic sound of the first half of the album. Having said that, it pulls you in with the subdued vocal style of the verses but the chorus is a bit of a let down. Even though the song isn’t a highlight in recorded form you can definitely imagine it (and most of the songs for that matter) translating really well into the live setting. This would make a great gig closer even if the recording isn’t as emotive as you feel it’s supposed to be.
Iguana is a very transitional album and the band would probably say the same. There’s a sense throughout of musicians forcing themselves to do something new and fresh while not wanting to abandon their instincts either. Possibly as a result there’s a lot of times where the album slips into mediocrity. Some songs definitely have more than enough potential, and the pair’s desire to break away from a “catchy riff, major lift chorus” formula is admirable, but for the most part it feels as though they’re being pulled in opposing directions.
Iguana is released Friday 7th June via Island Records.