When I was in the eighth grade, I would have really liked Die! Die! Die!’s new album. I would have taken my At the Drive In CD out of my Walkman and listened to Die! Die! Die! so fucking loud that I couldn’t hear any of those bullshit vapid conversations going on around me. Die! Die! Die! and I could have done some real good brooding together.
Unfortunately the New Zealand post-punk of Die! Die! Die! is about 10 years too late, and I’m not really that into indignant self-righteous brooding anymore. Of course there is a part of me that would still like to turn away from the world and take refuge in the screaming and the dissonant melodies, hearken back to the days of disaffected, disillusioned youth. But this can’t be done without a certain level of embarrassment, because after all the drum pounding is over, it’s hard not to see “Promises Promises,” the Kiwi’s latest release, for what it is: an emotional tantrum that, albeit forceful and compelling, never gets very far beyond the melodrama and the cliche.
It’s not much of a surprise that a band called Die! Die! Die!, with an album called “Promises Promises,” has difficulty writing lyrics with very much depth. On the title track, for example, the main refrain is quite simple, delivered with the usual gusto of emotionally burdened yelling collapsing under its own weight: “I just want what I was promised / Just what I was promised.” Reflective of the album’s emotional tenor on the whole, these lyrics are essentially frustrated demands that prevent the music from exploring deeper emotional forces, evoking a peculiar sense of entitlement (who promised that life wouldn’t suck a big one every once in a while?). While I admit that I can sympathize with the frustration, as I sit here writing this review, alone, on Valentine’s Day, I hardly think that this desperation should be indulged as it is throughout the album.
When the lyrics attempt to delve deeper on tracks such as “Whitehorses,” the result is similarly unsatisfying, and the emotion is trivialized with embarrassing cliche. While a dissonant arpeggio drifts in the background, lead singer Andrew Wilson asks the listener, “What would you do / when she says / that she fell out of love with you / no home, no white horses / no white horses, there on the side.” Is this really Wilson’s best expression of heartbreak? A nostalgia for love, that mythical powder white horse of our hearts? This is then quickly followed by a straightforward if-I-could-take-it-back moment. “Sorry for what I done did / If not for what I had had.” The emotion may be genuine and maybe even universal, but ultimately it reads like nothing more than a bad, wallowing diary entry — with poor grammar and sentence structure.
Fortunately, behind the cliched lyrics there is an aggressive rhythm and pace that keep the music from falling victim to its own melodrama. On tracks like “Blinding,” for example, Wilson might be singing about the pain of relationships, but the machine gun drumming from Michael Prain and the heavy driving bass line by Lachlan Anderson is all about moving on.
It is only in the last song, “Blue Skies,” that the two parts seem to have finally caught up to each other. Instead of getting stuck in his own self-pity, Wilson channels his aggressive energy, urging the listener, “You gotta believe / Gotta believe / Gotta believe!” When the song appears to cut out, or the speakers to have blown out, the drums carry the message forward with slamming crash cymbals that keep the rhythm going until Wilson explodes with an emphatic “GO!” The guitars and bass charge right back in.
It is a saving moment for an album that would otherwise be just a relic of my sad eighth grade past. Or a sad reminder of a Sad! Sad! Sad! Valentine’s Day.