Reader, the excitement of the wild osculations featured on Male Bonding’s Bruce LaBruce-lite clip for “Year’s Not Long” has yet to leave this jaded reviewer. Sadly, however, if I were to say that I come to bury Male Bonding, not to praise it, I would be referring not only to a certain genre of feminist-backlash literature (Robert Bly, I’m looking at you), but also to a group of English lads on their second outing. Following the trend pursued by other bands of their moment (ahem, Vivian Girls), Male Bonding have pursued the path of a lengthier follow-up (at 36 minutes, they’ve added 10 to the playlength of Nothing Hurts) and a couple of longer songs (including the somewhat predictable six-and-a-half-minute workout) — perhaps in order to show what they’re capable of?
But where Nothing Hurts was a brief explosion of raucous, rambunctious energy with an emphasis on the punk in post-punk, Endless Now seems to lack focus. Given that the retro endeavor works by employing the properties of memory, there is an essential quality of memorability, of the best of sweet pop-punk influences, which is missing on the songs here. Speaking of pop-punk, Male Bonding haven’t entirely lost the troubling of straight masculinity in rock, either, but now it appears in terms of influence rather than video voyeurism. “Carrying,” that is to say, bears more than a passing resemblance to Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Mind.” It’s ironic that “Bones,” the lengthy track mentioned above, is perhaps the most engaging, working a motoristic groove that has something of glam to it, reminiscent of the rockier moments of early Broken Social Scene. But the inclusion not only of one sole opus-length piece, but also of one single angsty acoustic ballad (“The Saddle”) on an album of rockers makes the trajectory feel tokenistic.
In interviews, Male Bonding have suggested that they “used the studio as a tool” on this album (in contrast to the first), and, sadly, that’s all too apparent. Given Endless Now’s cleaner production (the kind of sound exemplified by Nevermind), the material tends toward generic indie/alterna-rock (both as it was pioneered in the 80s, and as it developed through the 90s). If we’re ripe for an introduction of post-grunge sounds into the retro mélange — and given that the moment in question is now 15 years ago, no doubt we are — then we have here one among the early contenders. Thus, where the hype mentions the likes of Hüsker Dü — and there is certainly some accuracy to that point of reference — I would also think, less charitably, of groups like Bush. If there’s no sex in violence, there’s no sex in Bondage.