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The Orwells

If "Good Songs Make Ya Rich" The Orwells Prosper on 'Terrible Human Beings'

Music ReviewVincent BlackshadowComment

Even though they’ve only been around for two and a half records, it’s hard to deny that The Orwells have already earned some polarity. They’re not as controversial or divisive as, say, Obamacare or Passion of the Christ— but considering the plague of apathy that has replaced most record collections, they’re not doing half bad. Or maybe they are doing exactly half bad: Some people love ‘em, and some people hate ‘em.

It makes perfect sense that their most recent and decent contribution is titled Terrible Human Beings.

I’m no statistician, but I’m learned enough to know that the rowdy Chicago— sorry, Elmhurst— two-car-garage rock quintet is not always viewed in a positive light by their hometown music enthusiasts. Many local patriots lament the band’s popularity, claiming that their Letterman-induced “like-spike” went straight to their heavy heads. Other natives pounce on the opportunity to share rumors and unflattering stories starring the band members.

One thing is for sure, though— there are some fucking good songs here.

Recorded in a month at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio (good heavens, talk about divisive), Terrible Human Beings doesn’t exactly pick up where 2014’s summery Disgraceland left off. Gone are the Strokesy “Who Needs You”s and the bright, youthful drum production. This record is just sonically deeper, tighter, and darker. However, partiers need not worry— The Orwells have hardly stopped having fun, and the new record expands on some of the better ideas expressed on their earlier stuff.

Relax. The band is quite literally all growed up, that’s all. 

"They Put a Body in the Bayou” opens, in all of its mod-revival glory. Band spokesperson and guitarist Matt O’Keefe can’t quite remember where it came from, but it fluently establishes the album’s theme of slightly fucked-up pop songs.

“Alright, make it quick—good songs make ya rich...”

Another stark contrast between Terrible Human Beings and the earlier ‘Wells output is singer Mario Cuomo’s surge in lyrical maturity. I mean, it’s not that we weren’t satisfied with his “gimme a smile, then take off your pants” shtick, but he’s far more effective here, celebrating new topics such as insanity and vengeful decapitation in the same slacker drawl.

Cuomo notes that his younger bandmates are partially responsible for pushing him out of his lyrical (southern) comfort zone. From the political hints in “M.A.D.” and “Vacation,” to the romantic mutiny of “Ring Pop,” and a tribute to one of America’s most underrated songwriters in “Black Francis,” the gangly frontman’s snarly sentiments cleverly stumble on the line between stupid and smart.

The Orwells' Fourth 'Terrible Human Beings' Single Is a Tribute to Pixies Frontman Black Francis

New MusicVincent BlackshadowComment
Photo by Yam G-Jun

Photo by Yam G-Jun

Charles Thompson IV, 51, also known as Frank Black— formerly known as Black Francis— has finally been granted a song in his namesake, joining his fellow cult heroes Alex Chilton and Grant Hart. After ascending to indie-rock royalty as the potato-shaped Pixies frontman, he infamously faxed his bandmates their walking papers and quickly released two mammoth solo albums, 1993’s Frank Black and 1994’s incomparable Teenager of the Year. (As is tradition, these masterpieces have received only a fraction of the worship they deserve, but that’s another story.)

There are few better candidates for a Black Francis tribute song than Elmhurst garage-rockers The Orwells. The two-and-a-half minute dedication, like many of the band’s songs, has a very Pixie-esque flavor. However, it’s very clearly an Orwells song, right down to the celebration of youthful debauchery (“We should hit it / I think they called the cops”) and the catchy, melodic guitar lines.

“Felt long overdue that we paid him some direct respect,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe explains. “We’ve been ripping him off for years, hopefully this chips away at the massive debt we’ve got to him.”

Fans of The Orwells are hungry as hell - It’s been two years since the solid Disgraceland came out, and one can only spin “Let it Burn” and “Who Needs You” so many times. Thankfully "Black Francis" and the other three singles from their forthcoming LP Terrible Human Beings (due out February 17 via Canvasback/Atlantic), promise more lighthearted ass-kicking is on the way.

It’s about time.